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Within and against the law: the politics of labour law in China's adaptive authoritarianism

Enjuto Martinez, Regina (2016) Within and against the law: the politics of labour law in China's adaptive authoritarianism. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis seeks to answer how and why legal institutions, in particular laws, sustain authoritarianism in China. This thesis questions the paradox of law as domination and resistance: laws sustaining the CPC’s adaptive authoritarianism, or opening up avenues for political contestation and bringing about political change. It does so through the study of the political role of labour laws in China, combining an institutionalist perspective with a law and society approach. First, it argues that labour laws have been developed to support the capitalist economy, enforcing property rights and institutionalizing the rule of the Party-state. Second, through ethnographic-oriented research of three case studies of legal aid/labour non-governmental organizations (LAL NGOs) in Beijing, it demonstrates that labour laws, lawyers and LAL NGOs fulfil regime-supportive functions that both display and enable the adaptiveness of the CPC’s authoritarianism. Lawyers and LAL NGOs work within the law to protect workers’ rights and to improve the legal framework, helping to contain labour disputes and maintain social stability. Third, it finds that the legal definitions of rights contrast with workers’ conceptions of rights, the former being based on a capitalist rationale, while the latter is based on concepts of morality, fairness, equality, and on workers’ socio-economic conditions.Studying workers’ perceptions, understandings and uses of the law shows that some workers disagree with the premises of the labour laws, do not find the laws useful for a variety of reasons, and distrust the legal system, putting into question the legitimacy of such institutions of governance. I find that, according to popular conceptions of rights, workers act outside and against the law. The pitfall of the CPC’s ‘adaptive governance’ lies in its simplification of social order into rational legal order, omitting popular conceptions of rights and coherent forms of action that the same laws try to dismiss. Therefore, the space for transformative political action, either to challenge capital or the Party-state, rests outside and against the law.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Regina Enjuto Martinez
Library of Congress subject classification: K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Howell, Jude

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