I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. I am a law and society scholar and linguistic anthropologist specializing in child welfare as socio-legal institution. I am particularly interested in the increasing involvement of Latinx communities in child welfare and in examining how the legal professionals in child welfare construct ideologies of minimally-fit parenthood, legitimate citizenship, and the role of the child welfare system in managing social reproduction.

My work draws on scholarship in sociolegal studies, linguistic anthropology,and Latinx Studies. I present my work regularly at the American Anthropological Association and the Law and Society Association. My work has been supported by the American Bar Foundation, a “leading research institute for the empirical and interdisciplinary study of law” including the study of law’s impact on everyday life. I have also received support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Child welfare courts in the U.S. serve a predominantly low-income population and have been critiqued for their disproportionate intervention in Black and Indigenous families. Concerned with the increasing involvement of Latinx persons in child welfare proceedings in California, I examine how socioeconomic precarity, perceived cultural differences, and language barriers shape professional evaluations of whether Latinxs parents should maintain custody of their children following allegations of abuse and neglect. My findings are based on research I conducted throughout 18 months of consecutive and intensive daily ethnographic observations in a Northern California child welfare court. I am currently working on a book manuscript, Hearing Child Welfare: Ideologies of Latinx Parenthood in a California Child Welfare Court, which examines how law, language, and perceptions of race in shaping the experiences of Latinx parents seeking to retain their parental rights through child welfare proceedings. In it, I draw on the insights from legal and linguistic anthropology challenging static definitions of legal processes and from linguistic anthropology to analyze how language and interaction is central to power and resistance.

I examine how legal facts are entextualized, circulated, and legitimated through documents, court records, reports, and through the reception and interpretation of legal facts by legal professionals, including attorneys, judges, and social workers. 

My work also contributes to debates about access to justice for minoritized language speakers by demonstrating that various forms of linguistic marginalization remain despite the provision of trained interpreters. Instead of focusing on interpreters as the sole avenue for access to justice for minoritized speakers, I suggest a critical re-evaluation of how legal texts, spaces, and proceedings structured exclusively in English continue to marginalize minoritized and racialized speakers in legal settings. 

Follow me on Twitter! @anthlopezespino

email: lejessicaphd@gmail.com

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