“The Social Life of Law in Rural China: Peasant Movements and the Search for Justice”

Loading Map....

Date(s) - 18/04/2013
12.00 - 14.00

Porthania, University of Helsinki



The Finnish Center of Chinese Law and Chinese Legal Culture and the Academy of Finland research project “On “Global” governance: On the meanings and consequences of the ‘vernacularization’ of Human Rights Concepts”, led by Dr Reetta Toivanen, warmly welcome you to participate in the guest lecture given by Prof. Susanne Brandtstädter.

“The Social Life of Law in Rural China: Peasant Movements and the Search
for Justice”
Prof. Susanne Brandtstädter

This lecture explores the dynamics behind the new law activism and rights-based popular protests in the Chinese countryside. A focus on injustice shows that there is no linear relation between law, rights and justice, and that the ends of engaging the law in rural China might be different from its proclaimed goals. For peasant activists, injustice ultimately derives from the devaluation of peasant livelihoods and the destruction of rural solidarities. Law and rights ‘talk’ creates a new discursive space that allows peasants to dialogue with the state and mobilize new solidarities in the name of justice. Law’s appeal lies in its political potential – by acquiring legal knowledges Chinese peasants effectively learn a new language of power. It also lies in law’s emphasis on facts and its promise of blind justice. The issue is thus not a correct concept of
law or of civil or human rights. Rather, the issue is the form of address — human and civil rights discourse addresses peasants as citizens and bearers of the universal; as such it allows them to renegotiate fragmented moralities and meanings of justice, to regain a political voice, and to participate in the making of new publics beyond the rural-urban divide in China.

Susanne Brandtstädter is Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo. Since 1991, she has conducted research in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, where her overall theoretical interest has been local
responses to national and global transformations. Her most recent project (“The Social Life of the Law in China”) explores the (unintended) effects of a new politics of ‘governing through law’ (fazhi). Its focuses on new peasant law activists, on law as an idiom of power, and on justice and emergent publics in China. A recent publication is Rights, Cultures, Subjects and Citizens (ed., with P. Wade and K. Woodward), Routledge 2012.