Judging the Other: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Class in Family Court

Lens, Vicki A.

This critical ethnographic study of family court child maltreatment proceedings describes and illuminates the ways in which racial, gender, and class disadvantages can manifest on the ground as judges, attorneys, social service workers, and parents—joined often by gender but split by race and class—adjudicate cases. The findings suggest that intersectionality worked in ways that exponentially marginalized poor mothers of color in the courtroom. They were marginalized both through the rules of the adversarial process (which silenced their voices) and through the construction of narratives (which emphasized individual weakness) over structural obstacles as well as personal irresponsibility over expressions of maternal care and concern. Standard due process courtroom practices also communicated bias or social exclusion, especially in a courtroom split by race and class.


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Also Published In

Family Court Review

More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Published Here
June 10, 2019


This is the last of a series of papers based on an ethnographic study of a Family Court conducted between 2012-2013 when the author was an Associate Professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work.