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Matthew Clair

Photo of Professor Clair
Matthew Clair
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Ph.D., Harvard University, 2018


Dr. Matthew Clair is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and (by courtesy) the Law School. His scholarship broadly examines how cultural meanings and interactions reflect, reproduce, and challenge various dimensions of social inequality, legal violence, and injustice.  

His award-winning book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court shows how race and class inequalities in the criminal legal system are embedded in and reproduced through the attorney-client relationship. Drawing on in-depth ethnographic and interview data, his book shows how lawyers and judges often silence, coerce, and punish disadvantaged defendants who attempt to advocate for themselves in court but reward privileged defendants who trust in and defer to their lawyers' legal expertise. These dynamics reveal a paradox of legal control: striving to exercise one's legal rights often backfires for the poor and people of color. Following from the findings in his book, Dr. Clair's thinking on the criminal courts in relation to the abolition movement is forthcoming in a co-authored article in the California Law Review.

Dr. Clair's research has been published in Criminology, Law & Social Inquiry, Social Science & Medicine, and Social Forces and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the American Society of Criminology, the Center for American Political Studies, and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. He has received awards from the American Sociological Association, the American Society of Criminology, the Law & Society Association, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. His research has contributed to policy reports on reducing racialized mass incarceration and improving the health of racial/ethnic minorities. In addition, he has written essays for various outlets, including The Nation, Boston Review, Public Books, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.A Q&A about his recent research and thinking on racial injustice and the transformative possibilities of the Black Lives Matter movement can be found at Stanford Magazine.  

Along with a wonderful group of research assistants, Dr. Clair is collecting and analyzing data for two new projects. The Bay Area Law School Project is a longitudinal interview study of prospective lawyers that seeks to understand legal socialization processes in a moment of profound crisis in American society. The Court Listening Project is a comparative ethnographic study of courthouses in the Bay Area and the legal envisioning of the communities in which they are embedded.  

Prior to joining Stanford, Dr. Clair was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Quattrone Center. He holds an A.B. in Government from Harvard College and an A.M. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University.

More information about his scholarship is available on his personal website.


Related News

May 24 2021 | SSSP
Matthew Clair has been named a co-winner of the 2021 Michael Harrington Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems. This award is given to a scholar or organization that by their actions advances our understanding of poverty, social class, and/or inequality, and/or proposes effective...
Jan 6 2021 | The Nation
Unequal Before the Law How did we end up with our current system of public defenders?