“European China Law Studies Young Scholars Workshop” at the 12th annual conference of European China Law Studies Association (ECLS)
Wednesday, 23 August 2017 Leiden University
12.30 h Registration
Leiden University, Law School Kamerlingh Onnes Building Steenschuur 25, 2311 ES Leiden
13.00 – 14.30 h Paving the Way for an Academic Career / Ways of Self-Presentation and Promotion as a Young Scholar
▪ Susan Finder (Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong)
▪ Rogier Creemers (Faculty of Law, Leiden University)
14:30 – 15.00 h Coffee Break
15.00 – 16.30 h Methodological Approaches to Assess the Legal Development in China’s One-Party State
▪ Flora Sapio (Centre on China in the World, Australian National University)
▪ Larry Catá Backer (Penn State University)
▪ Benjamin Liebman (Columbia Law School)
Larry Catá Backer
Delivered August 23, 2017
How I go About Researching: The Feral Scholar.
7. And back to Methodological Approaches. The musing above provide the skeleton of a methodology for research and more importantly for thinking about China within the context of my research and writing interests. Always start from a larger picture; even the most granular study inevitably fits within larger structures. These larger structures have an ideology; and those ideologies bend reality to suit their ends. That is not a bad thing; it is indeed useful--for those in the business of developing and applying ideology. Less so for you (unless you are in that business). The problem isn't ideology, it is the indifference of scholars and writers to the way ideology shapes the way the world is seen, understood and interpreted. Especially interpreted; there is a world of ideology built into something as simple as the designation of a flower as a weed or as a garden specimen. One cannot engage in rigorous China work (or work in any ideological universe) without a keen sense of the way that ideological embedding drives reality--and analysis. The essence of methodology to the assessment of China's vanguard party state: primary sources; primary sources accepted and judged on their own terms. Secondary sources as useful engagement or themselves as politics disguised as analysis. one interacts with secondary sources. All work is political in this sense, but it is always better to have a firm grasp on the politics that drives your work. And it is even better to be explicit about it. Most are not. In other words; it is not what you know, but your ability to rigorously and with a clear head "see" what stands before you that will allow you to flourish in this as in any other area.
8. And the lessons. . . kids, don't try this at home. Now I will walk back the high rhetoric of the last paragraph, by emphasizing one of its propositions: all work is political. That is what the scholar must remember in all her work, and not just in the study of the Chinese vanguard Party-State system. The Ph.D. student must navigate the politics of the discipline necessary to acquire the doctorate. That political process is well known and well understood as a delicate, perhaps indelicate balance between the idealized objective to master a field and conform to its general precepts by adding to its knowledge production objectives and the reality of the egos and affiliations of those who make these determinations, usually arranged in power hierarchies dictated by the reputations of the universities whose collars the academic wears. One must please one's masters to survive long enough to write another day. And that carries over into one's career. Every choice of research topic and every decision about the premises and interpretative framework used to produce knowledge carries political calculation--one must please the colleagues in one's field, one must please the state and foundations both bloated with specific politics, objectives and funds for supporting research--their way. One must please the publishers through which an academic reputation is built. And academic reputations evidenced through position in the university hierarchy, through the "quality" and quantity of grants, and through publication ranking all tend to amplify or diminish voice, influence and the ability to effectively engage in one's work. And all of this depends in part on the relationship of the academic to the small universe of colleagues whose reviews, willingness to cite and use one's work, and open doors to foundations and state organs are essential to the way in which conventional career success is measured. And so the best answer to the methodological question is the least satisfying--mimic those who appear to possess the sort of success you are looking for. Find and please a class of academic master and join their pack. In return for the loss of autonomy one will have the comfort of a long and possibly conventionally distinguished career.
9. Final thoughts. I have counseled young scholars against taking the path I (inadvertently) made for myself. It is risky and does not guarantee conventional success. Yet it does not foreclose a measure of such success conventionally measured. And that is the essence of an effective methodological approach to assess legal developments in China's Party-State system--to be a part and apart (Here).
Words are cheap. And sentiments can degenerate into simple manipulation or self serving braggadocio. The measure of those who write is not how they speak about themselves or their craft, but how they actually write--what they have to say. With that in mind I offer you mine. These are the writings that focus on China. A number of others consider China and Chinese related issues in substantially broader context and are not listed. Feel free to judge for yourselves.