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Matthew Clair

Assistant Professor of Sociology and, by courtesy, Law
Ph.D., Harvard University, 2018
Graduation Year
Matthew Clair

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 and state violence. His research to date has focused on courts and the legal profession.

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 was recently published as a co-authored article in the California Law Review.

Dr. Clair's research has been published in Criminology, Law & Society Review, Law & Social Inquiry, and Social Forces and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the RDCJN/Arnold 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 public-facing outlets, including The Nation, Boston Review, Public Books, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2022, Dr. Clair received the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching, Stanford University's highest teaching award.

Along with a wonderful group of research assistants, Dr. Clair is collecting and analyzing data for three ongoing projects. The first is a longitudinal interview study of prospective lawyers that seeks to understand changing dynamics in the legal profession in a moment of profound crisis in American society. The second is The Court Listening Project, which is a multi-method study and archive of courthouses in the Bay Area and the legal envisioning of the communities in which they are embedded. The third is the implementation and evaluation of a "systems navigator" in the Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender.

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.



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