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Heith Copes

Heith Copes, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Justice Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has served as the President of the Southern Criminal Justice Association and has been a visiting professor at the University of Oslo, University of South Wales, Aalborg University, and the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research at Aarhus University. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Tennessee in 2001.

His academic research falls within two primary areas: criminal decision-making and narrative sense making. A large portion of his research addresses the decision-making strategies of people who engage in various types of illegal behavior using qualitative methods. He has interviewed people who have engaged in carjacking, auto theft, identity theft, meth cooking, and drug use. His decision-making research addresses such issues as motivations for committing crimes, pathways into crime, techniques to enact crime, and strategies to minimize risk associated with crime.

His other primary area of research involves understanding the ways that people make sense of their lives and crimes through stories. This includes how people excuse and justify their behaviors and how they construct social identities. His larger contributions in this line of research has been on elaborating on the symbolic boundaries people create to portray themselves as being “not that bad” when compared to others.

He is currently working with Jared Ragland on a photo-ethnography in rural Alabama. The project entails interviews, observations, and visual methods to document the lives of people who use methamphetamine in Marshall County, Alabama.