Dr. Sida Liu analyses how globalization affects the Chinese legal services market

Dr. Sida Liu received an SSHRC Insight Grant to study the dynamics of globalization and social interactions among the legal professions in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. His work will uncover how the legal professions in Taiwan and Hong Kong respond and adapt to the rise of China’s business corporations and law firms, and develop an ecological framework for understanding how adjacent social spaces interact and transform in relation to one other. Using the legal professions in the Greater China Region as an empirical case, the project investigates how globalization shapes emerging economies.

At the intersection between the sociology of law and globalization studies, this project will be the first large-scale social science study on the legal professions in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The primary research objectives are: (1) to understand how the adjacent social spaces of corporate legal markets in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China relate to one another; (2) to investigate how boundaries between social actors are constructed in workplace interactions (i.e. between lawyers and business corporations); and (3) to use the case of the corporate legal market to uncover the spatial and relational consequences of globalization in East Asia and beyond. This project builds on Dr. Liu’s previous research analyzing the emergence and transformation of the Chinese legal services market, where he conducted hundreds of interviews with lawyers and state officials in China.

Dr. Liu is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Toronto and a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. He received his L.L.B. degree from Peking University Law School and his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago. He joined the University of Toronto faculty in 2016, after teaching sociology and law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include the sociology of law, organizations and professions, globalization, and social theory. He has conducted multiple empirical projects on these topics, including empirical research on China’s legal reform and legal profession, and published on socio-legal theory and general social theory. His new project will build on his extensive research experience in China on the topic of globalization and the legal profession.

Professor Liu is the author of three books in Chinese and English, most recently, Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work. He has also published many articles in leading law and social science journals, such as the American Journal of Sociology.

Congratulations to Professor Sida Liu for his honourable mention in the Asian Law & Society Association Book Award

Congratulations to Professor Sida Liu who recently received an honourable mention in the Asian Law & Society Association Book Award for his book, Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work. The book was co-authored with Terence C. Halliday, and examines the routine work and political mobilization of defense lawyers in China.

Professor Liu is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and teaches on the UTM campus. He studies the sociology of law, organizations and professions, political sociology, criminal justice, globalization, and social theory. He has conducted extensive research on China’s legal system and legal profession, including studies on the globalization of corporate law firms, the feminization of judges, and the career mobility of law practitioners.

More information about the book can be found on the Cambridge University Press publisher site.

Professor Liu provides insight on China’s legal system

The New York Times Magazine recently published a piece on the treatment of human rights lawyers in China. The article highlights the stories of a group of lawyers in China and the risks and obstacles they face in practicing human rights law in China. U of T’s Sociology Professor Sida Liu was featured in the piece, giving input on the workings of China’s legal system and the history behind government intervention in legal proceedings in China.

Professor Liu has conducted extensive research on China’s legal system and has published work on practicing law in China.  He recently received funding for a research project studying the effects of globalization on lawyers practicing in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below.

‘Flee at Once’: China’s Besieged Human Rights Lawyers

As the global spotlight on the nation’s domestic policies has dimmed, lawyers for dissidents increasingly face a terrible choice: acquiescence or imprisonment.

Life has never been easy for China’s criminal defense lawyers. Until 1979, the People’s Republic operated with virtually no criminal-justice system whatsoever: The Communist Party organized Soviet-style police and people’s courts to address petty crimes and local disputes, but their primary responsibility was to enforce absolute loyalty to the party. Even the Constitution, the ostensible basis of the law, was rudimentary at best, and served mainly to outline the means of ‘‘socialist industrialization and socialist transformation’’ in order to abolish ‘‘systems of exploitation.’’ The near-constant churn of intraparty purges, revolutionary campaigns and political mobilizations rendered law an afterthought at best and a tool of the bourgeois antirevolutionaries at worst.

The economic reforms of the late 1970s brought legal reform along with them. The legal profession and the criminal-justice system were built from scratch — Mao had purged and destroyed the nascent community of lawyers in one of his ideological campaigns — but there was trouble from the start. These new courts were envisioned not as independent arbiters but as the ‘‘knife handle of the proletarian dictatorship,’’ according to Sida Liu, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies law and society in China. Defense lawyers were often treated like criminals themselves, harassed and imprisoned for fulfilling the basic duties of their profession. Between 1997 and 2001, at least 143 lawyers were arrested, detained or beaten in China for working on criminal cases, according to the Chinese bar association. The threat of punishment — or the allure of a comfortable job at a government-friendly firm — persuaded many lawyers to avoid criminal cases altogether, or to simply accommodate the whims of the authorities.

By the early 2000s, the Chinese leadership under Jiang Zemin was taking a relatively soft approach to ideological conformity — in part because the country was petitioning for membership in the World Trade Organization, which required American approval at a time when United States officials were pressing China on its domestic policies. A new generation of Chinese lawyers was also entering the profession, students who ‘‘would read about constitutionalism, would read about liberal values,’’ says Eva Pils, a reader in transnational law at King’s College, London. ‘‘Students in those days were really studying the American Constitution as much as the Chinese one, and trying to think about ways of giving effect to the Constitution — to revitalize and breathe life into it.’’ A debate within the profession bubbled to the surface: Should lawyers operating in an illegal society follow the law? Faced with the slow strangulation of their rights and protections, some lawyers concluded that in an unjust system, extralegal methods — open letters, micro­blogs, protests and public advocacy — were the only way to uphold the true principles of the law….

Read the full article.

Working Paper 2017-02

Beyond the Manifesto: Mustafa Emirbayer and Relational Sociology

Lily Liang, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sida Liu, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2017-02

June 2017

Keywords: relational sociology, pragmatism, Emirbayer, Dewey, Bourdieu

Full Article


Mustafa Emirbayer’s “Manifesto for a Relational Sociology” calls for a process-in-time understanding of the unfolding interaction between structure and agency that reproduces and transforms practical action. This chapter seek to situate Emirbayer’s Manifesto essay in his broader intellectual pursuits in the direction of relational sociology. We begin the chapter by outlining the dynamic interplay among structure, culture, and agency on which Emirbayer builds his research agenda for relational sociology. Then we examine the enduring influences of John Dewey and Pierre Bourdieu on Emirbayer’s relational thinking. Finally, we discuss Emirbayer and Desmond’s research agenda for studying the racial order in America as a prototype of Emirbayerian relational sociology in practice.

Professor Sida Liu’s newly funded project studies lawyers in East Asia to understand the spatial consequences of globalization

Sida LiuProfessor Sida Liu recently received funding from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange to pursue research on the geographic integration of lawyers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

Although globalization is often understood as a process of institutional diffusion and creative destruction, Professor Liu argues that it is also a process of spatial integration. China’s rapid rise as a regional and global power in the early twenty-first century has presented both opportunities and threats for adjacent economies in East Asia, particularly Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Professor Liu’s project will use three closely connected corporate legal markets in the Greater China Region (i.e., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China) to discover the spatial and relational consequences of globalization. His project involves participant observation in law firms, in-depth interviews with lawyers and in-house counsel, and a systematic collection of relevant statistics and reports of professional associations and the media. Through this research, Professor Liu will learn how the lawyers across adjacent national boundaries relate to each other and how workplace interactions shape the boundaries between lawyers, between law firms, or between lawyers and business corporations in the Greater China Region.

At the key intersection between the sociology of law and globalization studies, this project will not only provide the first large-scale social science study on the legal professions in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but also contribute to the emerging body of sociological scholarship on how globalization shapes emerging economies, such as the BRICS countries.

Are Protests Effective?

David Pettinicchio


The University of Toronto Mississauga’s newspaper, The Medium, recently featured two of our faculty members – Professors Sida Liu and David Pettinicchio – addressing the role and effectiveness of political protest. You can read the entire article online. We have posted an excerpt here.



Are protests effective?

A rise in the number of widespread protests has occurred

Aisha Malik and Mahmoud Sarouji.

Feb. 13, 2017

If you have been following the news lately, it’s hard to miss the abundance of protests and demonstrations occurring globally…

…But are protests effective? I contacted sociology professor Sida Liu, whose focus includes sociology of law, globalization, and social theory among others.

Liu explained that protests are an important factor of a democratic society. The protests in the U.S. not only show discontent with the president, but also reflect on larger global concerns, such as discrimination and the rise of xenophobia. Liu stated, “Skeptics would say that these protests are futile when a government is not listening and a president is too busy tweeting, but they at least raise the collective consciousness of people regarding some vital aspects of our social and political life.”

He went on to explain that protests connect over time, and sometimes only manifest after a longer period of time. Protests rarely have an immediate effect, but they are not isolated events either; rather, they need time to become evident.

In regards to solidarity marches for the Quebec City mosque shooting victims, Liu said that they “demonstrate the Canadian society’s openness, diversity, and care for religious and ethnic minority groups.” They also allow communities to come out and condemn violence against innocent and unarmed individuals.

Liu cited Émile Durkheim, a founding father of sociology who argued, “Punishment on crimes is an indicator of the solidarity of a society.” He further explained, “In this sense, solidarity marches also constitute a form of resistance to the symbolic and physical violence of gender and racial discrimination exercised by xenophobic white males.”

Sociology professor David Pettinicchio, whose focuses include political sociology, social policy, and social movements, also spoke of the impact a protest can have.

Pettinicchio explained that protests allow awareness of issues that don’t seem to be focused on by political leaders. Political activism is important especially now. He stated that “protests help galvanize people around important issues and they can indirectly shape policy directions.

“[Protests] alone may not be enough. For mobilization to be successful moving forward, it requires thinking about long-term and short-term goals and objectives, as well as the use of a multi-pronged approach that can include direct action, as well as systematic efforts to monitor policy, contact policymakers, and for regular citizens to remain engaged in the political process in the long run,” he continued. “The effectiveness relies on unity of ‘political elites’ movement and organizational leaders, activists and regular citizens.”

Read the full article here.

Criminal Defense in China

liu-criminal-defenseProfessor’s Sida Liu’s new book shows how defense lawyers in China interweave politics and practice in their everyday work.

Sida Liu is a faculty member at the Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, teaching at the Mississauga campus. Currently he is also a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation, and a Fellow of the Public Intellectuals Program at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Professor Liu’s empirical research focuses on the legal profession in China. Late this fall he and co-author Terence C. Halliday, published a book with Cambridge University Press entitled Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work

According to the publisher:

Criminal Defense in China studies empirically the everyday work and political mobilization of defense lawyers in China. It builds upon 329 interviews across China, and other social science methods, to investigate and analyze the interweaving of politics and practice in five segments of the practicing criminal defense bar in China from 2005 to 2015. This book is the first to examine everyday criminal defense work in China as a political project. The authors engage extensive scholarship on lawyers and political liberalism across the world, from seventeenth-century Europe to late twentieth-century Korea and Taiwan, drawing on theoretical propositions from this body of theory to examine the strategies and constraints of lawyer mobilization in China. The book brings a fresh perspective through its focus on everyday work and ordinary lawyering in an authoritarian context and raises searching questions about law and lawyers, politics and society, in China’s uncertain future.

Working Paper 2016-02

Overlapping Ecologies: Professions and Development in the Rise of Legal Services in China

Sida Liu, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2016-02

July 2016

Keywords: profession, development, ecology, lawyer, China

Full Article


The sociology of professions has derived most of its theories from the cases of professions in the Global North. Despite the growing number of empirical studies on professionals in developing countries, the intersection between professions and development has rarely been theorized. This paper uses the case of legal service professionals in China to outline an ecological theory of professions and development. It argues that, in the Global South, professions and development are overlapping ecologies that share some common actors and transform by similar social processes. Professionals serve as agents of development in at least four ways: (1) as facilitators of global institutional diffusion; (2) as delegates of the nation-state; (3) as brokers between global and national market interests; and (4) as activists of local social resistance. In the process of development, the four roles are constantly in conflict and the ecology of professions differentiates through social interactions among professionals performing these conflicting roles in issue areas such as economic growth, access to justice, and human rights.


University of Toronto Sociology Working Paper 2016-02

Welcome New Faculty

This year the Department of Sociology welcomes ten new faculty members into our community of scholars. This is the largest cohort of new faculty members we have seen in decades. They cover research and teaching interests ranging from classical theory to criminology and immigration studies and will help shape the character of the department in the years to come. Though housed across the three campuses, all faculty join together in contributing to the tri-campus graduate department.

Professor Ellen Berrey joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, Mississauga teaching in the area of Law and Society. She graduated with a PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University in 2008 and has previously taught at the University at Buffalo, SUNY and at the University of Denver.

Professor Irene Boeckmann is a new faculty member in Family and Demography, teaching at the St. George campus. Professor Boeckmann completed her PhD at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2014 and spent 2015 as a post-doctoral fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany.

Professor Emine Fidan Elcioglu brings her expertise in political sociology and immigration to the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Professor Elcioglu received her doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 2016.

Professor Steve G. Hoffman received his PhD at Northwestern University in 2009 and taught for several years at the University at Buffalo, SUNY before coming to the University of Toronto at Mississauga. Professor Hoffman teaches in the area of social theory and the sociology of disaster.

Professor Rachel La Touche comes to the University of Toronto at St George this year where she is teaching in the areas of research methods and inequality. She received her PhD from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2016 and has previously taught at the University of Mannheim-Germany and at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research(ICPSR) Summer Program at the University ofMichigan.

Professor Yoonkyung Lee joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, St. George. Professor Lee received her PhD at Duke University in 2006 and has previously taught at Binghamton University. Professor Lee is a political sociologist with a focus on Korean studies.

Professor Sida Liu is a new faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Professor Liu is a specialist in the sociology of law. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2009. Before coming to Toronto, Professor Liu taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also currently a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation and a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah received his doctorate in 2014 from the Centre for Criminology and Socio-legal Studies here at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Before coming back to Toronto, Professor Owusu-Bempah taught for a year at the Indiana University, Bloomington. Professor Owusu-Bempah is a specialist in policing and race.

Professor Kim Pernell comes to the University of Toronto, St. George with expertise in economic sociology, organizational sociology and social policy. Professor Pernell received a PhD in Sociology from Harvard in 2016.

Professor Ashley Rubin joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, Mississauga bringing expertise in the sociology of punishment and prisons. Professor Rubin received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2013 and previously taught at Florida State University.

U of T at the 2016 ASA

University of Toronto Sociology at the Annual Meeting of the 2016 American Sociological Association

Our Sociology faculty members and graduate students are very active with the American Sociological Association, with over 60 of them appearing in this year’s program either as presented or an organizer of a panel. See the program for more information. Here are some of the highlights:

Saturday, August 20

Irene Boeckmann

Fatherhood and Breadwinning: Race and Class Differences in First-time Fathers’ Long-term Employment Patterns

Monica Boyd; Naomi Lightman

Gender, Nativity and Race in Care Work: The More Things Change….

Clayton Childress

I Don’t Make Objects, I Make Projects: Selling Things and Selling Selves in Contemporary Art-making

Jennifer Jihye Chun

Globalizing the Grassroots: Care Worker Organizing and the Redefinition of 21st Century Labour Politics

Paulina Garcia del Moral

Feminicidio, Transnational Human Rights Advocacy and Transnational Legal Activism

Phil Goodman

Conservative Politics, Sacred Crows, and Sacrificial Lambs: The Role of ‘Evidence’ During Canada’s Prison Farm Closures

Josee Johnston

Spitting that Real vs. Keeping It Misogynistic: Hip-Hop, Class, and Masculinity in New Food Media

Andrew Miles

Measuring Automatic Cognition: Practical Advances for Sociological Research Using Dual-process Models

Atsushi Narisada

Palatable Unjust Desserts: How Procedural Justice Weakens the Pain of Perceived Pay Inequity

David Nicholas Pettinicchio

The Universalizing Effects of Unionism: Policy, Inequality and Disability

Markus H. Schafer

Social Networks and Mastery after Driving Cessation: A Gendered Life Course Approach

Lawrence Hamilton Williams

Active Intuition: The Patterned Spontaneity of Decision-making


Sunday, August 21

Sida Liu

The Elastic Ceiling: Gender and Professional Career in Chinese Courts

Jonathan Tomas Koltai; Scott Schieman; Ronit Dinovitzer

Status-based Stress Exposure and Well-being in the Legal Profession

Andrew Miles

Turf Wars of Truly Understanding Culture? Moving Beyond Isolation and Importation to Genuine Cross-disciplinary Engagement

Melissa A. Milkie

Time Deficits with Children: The Relationship to Mothers’ and Fathers’ Mental and Physical Health

Diana Lee Miller

Sustainable and Unsustainable Semi-Professionalism: Grassroots Music Careers in Folk and Metal

Ito Peng

Care and Migration Policies in Japan and South Korea

Scott Schieman; Atsushi Narisada

Under-rewarded Boss: Gender, Workplace Power, and the Distress of Perceived Pay Inequity


Monday, August 22

Salina Abji

Because Deportation is Violence Against Women: On the Politics of State Responsibility and Women’s Human Rights

Holly Campeau

The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the Blueville War: Policing, Standards, and Cultural Match

Bahar Hashemi

Canadian Newspaper Representations of Family violence among Immigrant Communities: Analyzing Shifts Over Time

Vanina Leschziner

The American Fame Game: Academic Status and Public Renown in Post-war Social Sciences

Ron Levi; Ioana Vladescu

The Structure of Claims after Atrocity: Justifications, Values, and Proposals from the Holocaust Swiss Banks Litigation

Patricia Louie

Whose Body Matters? Representations of Race and Skin Colour in Medical Textbooks

William Magee; Laura Upenieks

Supervisory Level and Anger About Work

Maria M. Majerski

The Economic Integration of Immigrants: Social Networks, Social Capital, and the Impact of Gender

Melissa A. Milkie

You Must Work Hard: Changes in U.S. Adults’ Values for Children 1986-2012

Jean-Francois Nault

Education, Religion, and Identity in French Ontario: A Case Study of French-language Catholic School Choice

Merin Oleschuk; Blair Wheaton

The Relevance of Women’s Income on Household Gender Inequality Across Class and National Context

David Nicholas Pettinicchio

Punctuated Incrementalism: How American Disability Rights Policymaking Sheds Light on Institutional Continuity and Change


Tuesday, Aug. 23

Katelin Albert

Making the Classroom, Making Sex Ed: A School-based Ethnography of Ontario’s Sexual Health Classrooms

Catherine Man Chuen Cheng

Constructing Immigrant Citizen-subjects in Exceptional States: Governmentality and Chinese Marriage Migrants in Taiwan and HongKong

Hae Yeon Choo

Maternal Guardians: Intimate Labor, Migration, and the Pursuit of Gendered Citizenship in South Korea

Bonnie H. Erickson

Multiple Pathways to Ethnic Social Capitals

  1. Omar Faruque

Confronting Capital: The Limits of Transnational Activism and Human Rights-based CSR Initiatives

Elise Maiolino

I’m not Male, not White, Want to Start There?: Identity Work in Toronto’s Mayoral Election

Jaime Nikolaou

Commemorating Morgentaler? Reflections on Movement Leadership, 25 Years Later

Kristie O’Neill

Traditional Beneficiaries: Trade Bans, Exemptions, and Morality Embodied in Diets

Matthew Parbst; Blair Wheaton

The Buffering Role of the Welfare State on SES differences in Depression

Luisa Farah Schwartzman

Brazilian Lives Matter, and what Race and the United States Got to do With it

Daniel Silver

Visual Social Thought

Laura Upenieks

Beyond America? Cross-national Contexts and Religious versus Secular Membership Effects on Self-rated Health

Barry Wellman

Older Adults Networking On and Off Digital Media: Initial Findings from the Fourth East York Study

Blair Wheaton; Patricia Joy Louie

A New Perspective on Maternal Employment and Child Mental Health: A Cautionary Tale

Tony Huiquan Zhang

Weather Effects on Social Movements: Evidence from Washington D.C. and New York City, 1960-1995