The Social History in Death Penalty Defense Advocacy
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This article offers an epistemologically focused descriptive account of the “social history” in American death penalty defense advocacy. Under British scientific empiricism, sufficient investigation forms the basis for representations that aspire to be adequate to investigated realities. As defense advocates see it, however, the very idea of humanity resists the goal of epistemological finality that comes with empiricist adequation. I argue that the social history investigation instrumentalizes this aesthetic of investigation-then-representation, allowing advocates to affirm to themselves the humanity of their clients while sidestepping the goal of adequation.