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Figuring out conflict: an ethnographic study of modernity, law, and the state in rural southwest china

Kohonen, Liisa K. (2019) Figuring out conflict: an ethnographic study of modernity, law, and the state in rural southwest china. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork between December 2014 - August 2016 in the rural Yunnan province of China, this thesis focuses on family and community conflicts and how people seek to resolve such conflicts by utilising a number of institutions of dispute mediation. Three levels of such institutions are analysed: the personal level of long-term relationships and kinship ties; the official level where police officers, grassroots government officials, and civil servants of the judicial administration are involved as mediators; and the legal level where the mediation is carried out by legal professionals in a court setting. The thesis deals with the processes of ‘figuring out’ the right course of action, both by the various mediators and the people involved in the conflict. It is argued that this is a form of reflexive problematisation of a dispute that leads people to specific justifications that tap into different ‘orders of worth’. A situational ‘order’ can be based on cultural models of proper behaviour towards kin and community; state law is also analysed as one such ‘order’. It is further argued that each level of dispute mediation has its own sources of reasoning, and people also have different expectations for what the mediation will accomplish or what its long-term effects may be. The backdrop for this research is constituted by the ongoing legal reforms in China that seek to further extend the use of law and legal consciousness into such familial matters as inheritance arrangements, care of the elderly, and marriage. The reforms are analysed here as part of the state-led efforts of modernisation and social progress. The thesis contributes to the field of legal anthropology through its findings on the development of legal consciousness in the contexts of plural normative orders, and increasing the understanding of how people utilise cultural models that typically associated with life in rural China, to live in a rapidly changing world.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Liisa K. Kohonen
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Steinmüller, Hans and Stafford, Charles
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/4038

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