Meet the Book Authors: The Asian Law and Society Reader

Lynette J. Chua, David M. Engel, & Sida Liu

In our Meet the Book Author Series, the Journal of Law and Society and the Centre of Law and Society provide first-hand accounts from authors who have recently contributed notable socio-legal books to their respective fields. In this post, we hear from Lynette J. Chua, National University of Singapore, David M. Engel, State University of New York, Buffalo and Sida Liu, The University of Hong Kong. Their new book, The Asian Law and Society Reader was published in March 2023 with University of Cambridge University Press.

What is the book about? 

Some of the most dynamic developments in the field of law and society are now taking place in Asia. Asian law and society research and teaching centers have proliferated; books, journals, conferences, and workshops have increased exponentially; and a new generation of students and young scholars have brought an infusion of energy and an eagerness to learn more about law and society studies. This book is meant to capture some of this intellectual ferment and excitement. It features outstanding scholarship by senior scholars and by younger authors. The readings and our own commentaries address research in twenty different Asian countries and territories, from Korea to Indonesia, from Taiwan to Pakistan and Central Asia, from China and Japan to India and Sri Lanka. 

Why so many Asian societies? First, we wanted to highlight socio-legal threads stretching across all of Asia. Indeed, these very threads help to define Asia as a world region. Second, the large number of case studies made it possible to explore differences between countries and to explain those differences by applying law and society theories and fieldwork methods. It was useful to consider countries as dissimilar politically, culturally, and historically as, for example, Vietnam, Indonesia, East Timor, Singapore, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

This is a book for students as well as for established scholars who wish to understand the current abundance of law and society research in Asia.  It offers an overview and an introduction to the varied legal cultures and institutional arrangements within the region. It provides a deep history of socio-legal scholarship in Asia as well as a snapshot of its current status. And it shows how the scholarly practices of talented law and society researchers can generate unique insights into Asian societies. 

Why did we write this book? 

Despite the flourishing of law and society research in Asia, most overviews focus only on one country at a time. The few studies that transcend single-country silos restrict their efforts to Asian sub-regions: East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Central Asia. We could find no other book that addressed the field of law and society across the entirety of Asia. Something important was missing – an understanding of the commonalities as well as the crucial differences among countries throughout the region. A book with a broader view of law and society in Asia was clearly needed.  Moreover, the demand for such a perspective had become obvious with the emergence of Asia-wide organizations and journals, such as the Asian Law and Society Association and the Asian Journal of Law and Society. We decided to publish a reader that supported this broader vision.

Our goal was not simply to enhance the work of law and society scholars who were already actively involved in Asia; we also wanted our book to be helpful to those who knew little or nothing about Asia. We believe that the global field of law and society will advance if it integrates the work of Asia-based scholars – and it will be impoverished to the extent that it fails to recognize and understand their contributions.

We were especially mindful of the new generation of highly motivated, creative, and insightful young scholars in Asia – both students and junior faculty – who are eager to learn more about law and society and to incorporate its theories and methods in their own work. We wanted to provide them with a book that demonstrates the many rewards of law and society studies as well as providing them with useful examples of how law and society scholars conduct their research.

How did we go about creating The Asian Law and Society Reader? 

Through lengthy discussions, we developed the chapter headings:

  • Introduction
  • Religion
  • Legal Pluralism
  • Disputing
  • Legal Consciousness
  • Legal Mobilization
  • Legal Professions
  • Courts
  • Crime and Justice
  • Practicing Law and Society Scholarship in Asia

We also identified five meta-themes that run through the entire book: colonialism and modernity; legal and political transformations; inequality; rights; and identities. We divided up our responsibilities and searched widely for every book and article we could find for each chapter. We selected the best – and most teachable – of those texts, including as many different countries as possible and as many Asian authors as we could identify, though by necessity we considered only readings that were published in English. We assembled the chapters, highlighted the narrative threads running through the entire book, and worked with the publishers to develop a format to make the readings and commentaries as clear and accessible as possible.

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