Start Submission Become a Reviewer

Reading: Behind the Judges' desk: An Ethnographic Study on the Italian Courts of Justice


A- A+
Alt. Display

Academic Articles

Behind the Judges' desk: An Ethnographic Study on the Italian Courts of Justice


Luca Verzelloni


Interpretation of the written law, far from being a cognitive activity, it's a concrete and material practice, which is created, recreated and reinforced through experience and through continuous individual and collective learning occasions. This process isn't based on perennial and immutable axioms, but is an activity built in practice, through subsequent "translations" of formal and abstract rules into "concrete" lawsuits. Being a magistrate doesn't mean acquiring a body of abstract knowledge on how to interpret the written laws; rather it signifies an ability to practice as a judge in a court of justice. In order to study the logics that characterize the " fabrique du droit", it is necessary to go "behind the judges' desk"so as to investigate the "real doings" of the practitioners. In light of these reflections, this article tries to reflect on the activities of the Italian judges. The data presented were drawn from several periods of ethnographic research conducted over two years in four Italian courts specialized in legal arguments at first instance related to Labor relationships, Assistance and Welfare. Tribunals were chosen on the basis of two criteria: dimension and geographical location. The research has considered 16 judges (novices, experienced and presidents of section). The conclusion of this paper is that interpretation of the written law, while remaining a prerogative of the single Italian magistrate, is linked to the organizational context in which each judge operates and to the occasions for comparison with the colleagues of section. Some Italian tribunals look like "condominiums", where magistrates appear as "monads" andother, instead, can be described as "communities of practitioners", in which judges discuss common "translations" of the written law and put the results of this dialogue into practice.

How to Cite: Verzelloni, L., 2012. Behind the Judges' desk: An Ethnographic Study on the Italian Courts of Justice. International Journal for Court Administration, 4(2), pp.75–83. DOI:
Published on 15 Jun 2012.
Peer Reviewed


  • PDF (EN)

    comments powered by Disqus