The Humanities and Public Life. By Peter Brooks (ed.) with Hilary Jewett. New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2014. 172 pp. $18.00 paper.

Date01 December 2014
Published date01 December 2014
the “tree” of the small number of cases that make to the court. For
readers who are primarily interested in China’s environmental
pollution problems rather than its legal remedies, the book can be
a good starting point, but it is by no means a comprehensive
picture. Shifting the sites of research from courts to rural villages
and urban neighborhoods would generate richer empirical find-
ings and perhaps different theoretical insights regarding China’s
daunting tasks of environment protection.
For students of China’s legal system, however, this book pres-
ents a great example of using a concrete legal issue to tell a much
larger story of how judges, lawyers, litigants, and other actors in the
legal system work in practice. This rich and compelling story begins
with the micro social construction of environmental cases, proceeds
to macrostructural analyses of different actors in the political-legal
field, and ends with visions for the future of rights activism and
political change in China. The concept of political ambivalence
nicely ties the whole book together and reminds the readers that
the author is a political scientist above all.
In addition to the author’s extensive data collection through
interviews, observation, and archival research, the book draws on a
large number of social science studies on Chinese law and politics.
It strikes a good balance between primary and secondary data,
as well as between empirical findings and theoretical innovations.
Focusing on litigation, this pioneering study opens up many ques-
tions regarding the prospects of China’s environmental protection
and the rule of law. For instance, a comparison between the legal
and administrative channels of environmental dispute resolution
would lead to a better understanding of how law and politics
interact in the Chinese context. A more systematic comparison
between environmental law and other areas of law, such as criminal
law or commercial law, would also enable the author to further
develop the theory of political ambivalence in China and beyond.
The Humanities and Public Life. By Peter Brooks (ed.) with Hilary
Jewett. New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2014. 172 pp. $18.00
Reviewed by Anna Offit, Department of Anthropology, Princeton
The Humanities and Public Life is the ambitious beginning of a much-
needed conversation on the practice of ethical reading, and the
Book Reviews 991

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