East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

May 18 Workshop


Workshop on East Asia:
Politics, Economy and Society Presents

“Politics in Everyday Work: Motivations and Coping Strategies of Chinese Criminal Defense Lawyers”

Sida Liu
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
University of Wisconsin-Madison

4:00-5:30pm, Tuesday
May 18, 2010
Pick Lounge
5828 South University Ave.

Workshop website: http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/eastasia/
Student coordinator: Jean Lin (jeanlin@uchicago.edu)
Faculty sponsors: Dali Yang, Cheol-sung Lee, Dingxin Zhao
The workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance, please contact the student coordinator in advance.

This paper examines the meaning of politics in everyday legal practice using the case of Chinese criminal defense lawyers. Based on 181 in-depth interviews with criminal defense lawyers and other informants in 21 cities across China, we argue that lawyers’ everyday politics have two faces: on the one hand, lawyers potentially can challenge state power, protect citizen rights, and pursue proceduralism in their daily work; on the other hand, they often have to rely on political connections with state agencies to protect themselves and solve problems in their legal practice. This double meaning of politics explains the paradoxical motivations and coping strategies that are frequently found in Chinese lawyers’ everyday work. Our data show that the Chinese criminal defense bar is divided into two categories, namely, the politically liberal lawyers and the politically embedded lawyers, with the two ideal-types converging only at the top of the bar. They also suggest that political lawyering is not merely short-term mobilization or revolutionary struggle against arbitrary state power, but an incremental everyday process that often involves complex strategies and conflicting interests. With the empirical findings, we call for an engagement of two long-standing law and society traditions, namely, lawyers’ everyday work and political lawyering.

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