Ke Li, "Marriage Unbound: State Law, Power, and Inequality in Contemporary China" (Stanford UP, 2022)


In recent years the authors of a slew of books and articles have debated whether China is moving toward or away from the rule of law. Against this end-of-history approach to legal inquiry, Ke Li advocates for an approach that attends to the circumstances in which state actors select legal methodologies for the purposes of statecraft, and those in which they prefer nonlegal, extralegal and illegal ones. She demonstrates this approach in Marriage Unbound: State Law, Power, and Inequality in Contemporary China (Stanford University Press, 2022), in which she offers a sophisticated “historically charged, culturalist perspective” of state legal practice in China, worked out over 15 years of immersive research and careful writing.

Ke Li joins this episode of New Books in Interpretive Political and Social Science to discuss why research on authoritarian legality fails to give culture its due, the differences between practice-oriented inquiry and studies that concentrate on intersubjective meaning-making, causal inference in interpretive research, and descriptive and creative writing in the social sciences. Ke also has some great fieldwork tips for budding ethnographers.

Nick Cheesman is associate professor in the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University and in Fall 2022 was a fellow at the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, University at Buffalo. He is a committee member of the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods group of the American Political Science Association and co-convenes the Interpretation, Method, Critique network at the ANU.

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Nick Cheesman

Host, Interpretive Political and Social Science; sometimes contributor, Southeast Asian Studies
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