Robin Conley Riner

Dr. Conley (Riner) has conducted ethnographic research on death penalty trials across Texas, investigating how the use of language shapes jurors’ experiences during trials and impacts their life and death decisions. Her book, Confronting the Death Penalty, published by Oxford University Press (2015), explores how jurors use language to counter moments of empathy they share with defendants, thereby justifying their decisions for death.

She is currently engaged in a new project that investigates killing in contexts of war. This research involves interviewing combat veterans of contemporary wars and examining military training practices to explore the “moral breakdown” that many veterans face both in combat and afterwards. She and her colleague, a veteran himself, hope to improve understanding of contemporary combat experiences in order to better facilitate veterans’ transitions into post-deployment life.

Dr. Conley is also collaborating with other faculty members in Marshall’s Sociology & Anthropology department to conduct an empirical study of higher education in Appalachia. The project attempts to ascertain the cultural influences on the region’s relatively poor achievement in higher education and low economic status. This project is being developed in conversation with university administrative departments and will add a much-needed perspective to the discussion of the future of higher education in the United States.

Her teaching covers diverse topics such as ethnographic methods and theory; language and social life; law, culture and society; and gender and sexuality. She currently serves as the department’s director of Undergraduate Studies and as a member of the Women’s Studies board on campus.

Curriculum Vitae


Selected publications

Conley Riner, R. (2017). Discourses of Death: The influence of language on capital jurors’ decisions. Journal of Criminal Justice & Law 1(1):43-56.

Conley, R. (2016). Confronting the Death Penalty: How language influences jurors in capital cases. Oxford University Press.

Conley, R. (2013). Living with the Decision that Someone Will Die: Linguistic distance and empathy in jurors’ death penalty decisions. Language in SocietyPDF

Conley, R. & J.M. Conley (2009). Stories from the Jury Room: How jurors use narrative to process evidence. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society 49(2).  PDF

Conley, R. (2008). “At the time she was a man”: The temporal dimension of identity construction. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 31(1):28-47.  PDF


Selected courses

Linguistic Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology

Law, Culture & Society

Language, Gender and the Body

Theory in Ethnology: Anthropological Knowledge and Authority