Dr. Iris Sportel


Core areas

As a legal anthropologist, my research focusses on how individual actors — ordinary people, legal professionals, and parties in court procedures — deal with and experience law and legal institutions, especially in contexts of migration and transnationalism. My research interests include family, intimate relationships and law; gender and ethnicity; law in everyday life; mixed marriages; and Islamic family law.


Research Project: Religion, culture, and ethnicity in legal procedures on child care of minority parents

In the last decennia, European families have become increasingly diverse. The cultural, religious and ethnic identity of children plays a role in a growing number of adoption, post-divorce custody, education, and international child abduction cases, as well as in some criminal law cases. In these cases, parents can make cultural, ethnic or religious claims in court cases regarding the care for their children. Furthermore, judges, child welfare and protective services and other professional actors may also make implicit or explicit assumptions about parents’ abilities and intentions based on their cultural, ethnic or religious background. Thus, while on the one hand minority parents may use cultural, religious or ethnic arguments in court, they may also be judged differently based on their ethnic, cultural or religious background. Taking the Netherlands as a case-study, this project aims to take an interdisciplinary, critical, socio-legal approach to analyse the role of ethnicity, culture and religion in court cases concerning minority parents and children.

Selected publications

  • L. de Groot-van Leeuwen, M. Laemers, I. Sportel (eds.) (2015). Verdicts better explained? Social effects of improved reasoning in criminal justice verdicts. Den Haag: SDU [in Dutch].
  • Sportel (2013). “Because it’s an Islamic Marriage”: Conditions at marriage and after divorce in transnational Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Egyptian marriages. Oñati Socio-Legal Series, vol. 3, nr. 6:
  • B. de Hart, W. van Rossum, I. Sportel (eds.) (2013). Law in the Everyday Life of Transnational Families. Oñati Socio-Legal Series, vol. 3, nr. 6: special issue on Law in the Everyday Life of Transnational Families.
  • Sportel (2011). Transnational Divorce in Dutch-Moroccan Families. The Semi-Autonomous Social Field of Legal Aid. Recht der Werkelijkheid, Special Issue Socio-Legal Studies in a Transnational World, 32 (3), 37-51
  • Sportel (2011). ‘If it doesn’t work out here, we’ll go to Morocco?’ Forms of Capital in Transnational Dutch-Moroccan Divorces [in Dutch]. Justitiële Verkenningen 37 (6), 85-96.