Expert Evidence on Trial: Social Researchers in the International Criminal Courtroom

American Ethnologist, Issue 43(4), 2016

29 Pages Posted: 19 May 2016 Last revised: 8 Aug 2018

See all articles by Richard Ashby Wilson

Richard Ashby Wilson

University of Connecticut School of Law; University of Connecticut

Date Written: May 18, 2016


Social researchers often feature as expert witnesses in international criminal trials, where they can exert a strong influence on a court’s understandings of mass atrocities. Analysis of over 400 expert appearances shows that, overall, international judges prefer experts who use scientific methods, but when social researchers are called, courts favor qualitative researchers over quantitative ones. In two international speech-crimes trials, a language expert was preferred to a quantitative sociologist because the former did not challenge the sovereignty of judges or the status hierarchy of the courtroom. When excluding quantitative experts, judges cite “common sense” as the basis of facticity and knowledge. The prevailing epistemological framework at international criminal tribunals results from the knowledge strategies of legal actors operating in a structurally fragile context.

Keywords: legal anthropology, law and epistemology, expert witnesses, hate speech, incitement, international criminal law, human rights, genocide

Suggested Citation

Wilson, Richard Ashby, Expert Evidence on Trial: Social Researchers in the International Criminal Courtroom (May 18, 2016). American Ethnologist, Issue 43(4), 2016. Available at SSRN:

Richard Ashby Wilson (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States


University of Connecticut ( email )

354 Mansfield Road
Storrs, CT 06269-1176
United States


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