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Performing Artivism: Feminists, Lawyers, and Online Legal Mobilisation in China

Somerset House East Wing, Strand Campus, London

15 Oct
Performing Artivism: Feminists, Lawyers, and Online Legal Mobilisation in China
Part of Human Rights, Development and Global Justice Series


In authoritarian contexts where the state is the primary performer in the public sphere and legal mobilisation is constrained and repressed, activists often seek to carve out a public space to confront the frontstage and backstage of the state’s performance in order to pursue collective action. Comparing the online legal mobilisation of feminist and lawyer activists in China, this study investigates how performance arts are used by activists to challenge the authoritarian state in the age of social media. Performing “artivism” is to create conspicuous spectacles in the public eye for the purposes of exposing the state’s illegal or repressive backstage actions or promoting alternative values and norms different from the official ideology. By subversively disrupting the evidential boundaries set by the state, Chinese activists were able to gain momentum and public support for their legal mobilisation. However, it was precisely the success of their artivism that contributed to the government crackdowns on both feminists and lawyers in 2015.

Speaker biography

Sida Liu is Associate Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Toronto and Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. He has conducted extensive empirical research on China’s legal reform and legal profession. Dr. Liu is the author of three books in Chinese and English, most recently, Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work (with Terence C. Halliday, Cambridge University Press, 2016).

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