sociologist & writer

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Matthew Clair is Assistant Professor of Sociology and (by courtesy) Law at Stanford University. His scholarship examines how cultural meanings and interpersonal interactions reflect and reproduce social inequality in laws, the legal profession, and the criminal legal system.

Matt's book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court (Princeton University Press) shows how race and class inequalities are embedded in the attorney-client relationship. Through an analysis of in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations among defendants and court officials in the Boston area, the book reveals how lawyers and judges often silence, coerce, and punish disadvantaged defendants who attempt to advocate for themselves 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 working-class people of color. The book discusses myriad paths--some pragmatic, others transformative--to correcting these injustices. Other work has appeared in several peer-reviewed academic journals and various media outlets.

Matt's research 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 and has been supported by several grants and fellowships, including the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Beyond his sociological scholarship, he writes creatively, makes visual art, and enjoys skiing and tennis. Matt received his A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. from Harvard University.