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Heith Copes

Heith Copes

Distinguished Professor; Director of CJ Honors Program
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(205) 934-2069
UBOB 315

Research Interests: Narrative criminology, identity and crime, qualitative research methods, visual criminology

Office Hours: T/W/TH 3:00 - 4:30 p.m.; or by appointment

  • Ph.D., University of Tennessee

I am a sociologist by training; however, my academic focus in on studying those who engage in crime and drug use. My research falls within two primary areas: criminal decision-making and narrative sense making. One thread that ties these two bodies of research together is the use of qualitative methods. I use various qualitative methodologies to understand my subject matter, including semi-structured interviews, ethnographic observations, and photo-elicitation interviews.

A large portion of my research addresses the criminal decision-making strategies of people who engage in various types of crime. I have interviewed people who have engaged in carjacking, auto theft, identity theft, bar fights, meth cooking, and drug use. My research in this area addresses such issues as motivations for committing their crimes, pathways into crime, techniques to enact the crime, and strategies to minimize risk. One of my larger contributions of this research is on how various aspects of decision-making (e.g., excuse making, risk reduction, social connections) contributes to people prolonging their criminal careers..

My other primary area of research involves understanding the ways that people make sense of their lives and crimes. This includes how they excuse and justify their crimes and how they construct social identities. My larger contributions of this line of research have been on elaborating on the identity boundaries people create to portray themselves as being “not that bad” when compared to other people. For example, my research shows how those who use drugs (e.g., crack and meth) see themselves as functional and as being different from dysfunctional users. By maintaining their looks, family relations, and mental states they can show how they are not like a typical crack head or meth head.

In addition to research, a large portion of my time is devoted to teaching. I teach various classes but most often I teach criminological theory and patterns in crime. It is in these classes that I am best able to bring in my own research to make the material easier to understand for students. Since coming to UAB I have been fortunate to win several teaching awards, including the Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction, the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentorship.

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  • Recent Courses
    • Criminology
    • Patterns in Crime
  • Select Publications
    • Copes, Heith, Fiona Brookman, Blake Beaton and Jared Ragland. 2022. “Sex, Drugs, and Coercive Control: Gendered Narratives of Methamphetamine Use, Relationships, and Violence.” Criminology 60(1): 187-218.
    • Deitzer, Jessica, Lindsay Leban, Heith Copes, and Sam Wilcox. 2022. “Criminal Self-Efficacy and Perceptions of Risk and Reward Among Women Methamphetamine Manufacturers.” Justice Quarterly 39(4): 847-870. doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2021.1901965
    • Ericson, Jacob, Andy Hochstetler, and Heith Copes. 2021. “Meth Cooking as a Job: Identity and Dirty Work” Justice Quarterly 28: 849-869.
    • Copes, Heith, Lindsay Leban, and Jared Ragland. 2021. “Changing Narratives of Intimate Partner Violence: A Longitudinal Photo-Ethnography.” Conflict and Society 7: 123-142.
    • Copes, Heith, and Andy Hochstetler. 2021. “The Social Organization of Methamphetamine Manufacturing: Roles, Identities and Persistence.” Journal of Criminal Justice 73.
    • Sandberg, Sveinung, Heith Copes, and Willy Pedersen. 2019. “When Peaceful People Fight: Beyond Neutralization and Subcultural Theory.” British Journal of Criminology 59: 1309-1327.
    • Deitzer, Jessica, Lindsay Leban, and Heith Copes. 2019. “The Times Have Changed, the Dope Has Changed: Women’s Cooking Roles and Gender Performances in Shake Methamphetamine Markets.” Criminology 57: 268-288.
    • Webb, Meg, Heith Copes, and Peter Hendricks. 2019. “Narrative Identity, Rationality, and Microdosing Classic Psychedelics.” International Journal of Drug Policy 70: 33-39.
  • Academic Distinctions & Professional Memberships
    • Co-Editor, Deviant Behavior
    • 2022-2023 ACJS Donald MacNamara Award for “Meth Cooking as a Job: Identity and Dirty Work.” Awarded for outstanding article published in ACJS journals.
    • Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2017.
    • Visiting/Guest Professor at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security, and Law; University of Queensland; University of South Wales; University of Oslo; Aalborg University; Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research (Aarhus University).