Research has shown that legal cynicism is pervasive among residents of poor, black neighborhoods. However, controlling for crime rates, these residents call police at higher rates than whites and residents of middle-class neighborhoods, and ethnographic research suggests that mothers in particular sometimes exact social control over partners and children through police notification. Given these findings, how might researchers better understand how legal cynicism and occasional reliance on police fit together? Drawing on interviews with poor African-American mothers in Washington, DC, this article develops an alternative conception of cultural orientations about law: situational trust. This concept emphasizes micro-level dynamism in cultural conceptions of the police, expanding the literature on police trust by emphasizing situational contingency. Mothers deploy at least four alternative strategies that produce moments of trust: officer exceptionalism, domain specificity, therapeutic consequences, and institutional navigation. These strategies shed light on the contextual meanings of safety and legitimacy
Date of Authorship for this Version
Bell, Monica C., "Situational Trust: How Disadvantaged Mothers Reconceive Legal Cynicism" (2016). Faculty Scholarship Series. 5133.