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Performing Artivism: Feminists, Lawyers, and Online Legal Mobilization in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2020


In authoritarian contexts where the state is the primary performer in the public sphere and legal mobilization is constrained and repressed, activists often seek to carve out a public space to confront the frontstage and backstage of the state’s performance in order to pursue collective action. Comparing the online legal mobilization of feminist and lawyer activists in China, this article investigates how performance arts are used by activists to challenge the authoritarian state in the age of social media. Performing “artivism” is to create conspicuous spectacles in the public eye for the purposes of exposing the state’s illegal or repressive backstage actions or promoting alternative values and norms different from the official ideology. By subversively disrupting the evidential boundaries set by the state, Chinese activists have been able to gain momentum and public support for their legal mobilization. However, it was precisely the success of their artivism that contributed to the government crackdowns on both feminists and lawyers in 2015.

© 2020 American Bar Foundation

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The authors thank Myra Marx Ferree, Terence C. Halliday, Ping-Chun Hsiung, Gwendolyn Leachman, Ke Li, Pin Lü, Audrey Macklin, Gay W. Seidman, Yiching Wu, Michael Yarbrough, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on our research and writing for this article. Drafts of the article were presented at King’s College London, the University of Michigan, the University of Toronto, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the fourteenth International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry.



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