The Politics of Defense: Lawyers and Criminal Justice in China

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Talk by Sida Liu, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Professor of Sociology and Law (UW-Madison) Sida Liu explores what motivates Chinese defense attorneys to grapple with the challenges of criminal defense in China.

Politics is everywhere in the legal profession, but nowhere is it as strong and complex as in the work of criminal defense lawyers. Lawyers in China encounter great difficulties and personal danger in criminal cases, yet many of them persist in doing criminal defense work. What motivates them to do so? How do they survive in an unfavorable criminal justice system? What are the various strategies that they adopt to mobilize for legal and political change? Based on 329 interviews across the country and a variety of media and archival data collected during a decade of fieldwork in China from 2005 to 2015, this study explains these empirical questions at the key intersection between research on the legal profession, criminal justice, and political change. It also sheds light on two broader questions on China and politics, namely, where go China’s legal and political reforms? And how do lawyers fight for basic legal freedoms in illiberal political societies?

Sida Liu is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. He received his LL.B. degree from Peking University Law School and his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago. Professor Liu’s current research interests focus on the sociology of law, organizations and occupations, criminal justice, globalization, and general social theory. He has conducted extensive empirical research on China’s legal reform and legal profession. Professor Liu has published articles in the American Journal of Sociology, Sociological Theory, Law & Society Review, Law & Social Inquiry, Law & Policy, Symbolic Interaction, Wisconsin Law Review, Fordham Law Review, China Quarterly, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, as well as in leading law and social science journals in China. He is the author of two books in Chinese: The Lost Polis: Transformation of the Legal Profession in Contemporary China (Peking University Press, 2008) and The Logic of Fragmentation: An Ecological Analysis of the Chinese Legal Services Market (Shanghai Joint Publishing Co., 2011). His new book with Terence C. Halliday, The Politics of Defense: Lawyers and Criminal Justice in China, will be published by Cambridge University Press.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies

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Published: Friday, October 9, 2015