As a sociologist, my main research interests fall into five areas of sociology: sociology of law, organizations and professions, social theory, political sociology, and global sociology. As an interdisciplinary researcher, I have also written on topics closely related to legal theory, criminal justice, and political science. Most of my empirical work focuses on China’s legal reform and legal profession, but I also write on sociolegal theory and general social theory, particularly theories of social spaces and processual sociology. 

Theoretically, I am a follower of Georg Simmel and the Chicago School of sociology. In the past decade, I have been developing a theory of social spaces for studying law, professions, markets, states, and other social entities. In contrast to some mainstream sociological theories that emphasize causal relationship or hypothesis testing, I take an alternative Simmelian approach that resembles social geometry: it seeks to explain the emergence and transformation of social structures by examining their locations in social spaces and the social processes that constitute their topology and temporality. Following the Chicago School, I use a number of general social processes (competition, conflict, boundary work, exchange, migration, etc.) to describe and analyze the changes of social entities over space and time.  

Most of my academic articles can be accessed from Google Scholar or My Chinese books are available through and My first English book, Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work (with Terence C. Halliday), is available on and from many international book sellers. My forthcoming articles and manuscripts in progress are available upon requests (contact me). The following is a list of my publications. 

In English:


2016. Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. (Sida Liu and Terence C. Halliday)

Journal Articles

2021. “Doing Ethnography on Social Media: A Methodological Guide to the Study of Online Groups in China.” Qualitative Inquiry, first published online on May 14, 2021. (Di Wang and Sida Liu)

2021. “Institutional Proximity and Judicial Corruption: A Spatial Approach.” Governance, first published online on May 4, 2021. (Juan Wang and Sida Liu)

2021. "Dignity Discourses in Struggles for Basic Legal Freedoms in China." Asian Journal of Law and Society 8(1): 134-150. (Terence C. Halliday and Sida Liu)

2021. "The Forms and Architects of China's International Legal Order." Yale Journal of International Law 46: 47-71. (Matthew S. Erie and Sida Liu)

2021. "Between Social Spaces." European Journal of Social Theory 24(1): 123-139. 

2020. "Cage for the Birds: On the Social Transformation of Chinese Law, 1999-2019." China Law and Society Review 5(2): 66-87. 

2020. "The Gateway to Global China: Hong Kong and the Future of Chinese Law Firms." Wisconsin International Law Journal 37: 308-349. (Sida Liu and Anson Au)

2020. "Professional Impurities." Research in the Sociology of Work 34: 147-167. 

2020. "Performing Artivism: Feminists, Lawyers, and Online Legal Mobilization in China." Law & Social Inquiry 45(3): 678-705. (Di Wang and Sida Liu)

2020. "Inside the 'Red Circle': The Production of China's Corporate Legal Elite." Journal of Professions and Organization 7(1): 87-100. (Jingqi Zhu, Yang Zhao, and Sida Liu)

2019. "The Ecology of Activism: Professional Mobilization as a Spatial Process." Canadian Review of Sociology 56(4): 452-471. (Sida Liu and Terence C. Halliday)

2019. "Ordering Power under the Party: A Relational Approach to Law and Politics in China." Asian Journal of Law and Society​ 6(1): 1-18. (Juan Wang and Sida Liu)

2019. "Law as a Sword, Law as a Shield: Politically Liberal Lawyers and the Rule of Law in China." China Perspectives 2019(1): 65-73. (Sida Liu, Ching-Fang Hsu, and Terence C. Halliday)

2018. "Boundaries and Professions: Toward a Processual Theory of Action." Journal of Professions and Organization 5(1): 45-57. 

2017. “Overlapping Ecologies: Professions and Development in the Rise of Legal Services in China.” Sociology of Development 3(3): 212-231.

2017. “Lawyer Discipline in an Authoritarian Regime: Empirical Insights from Zhejiang Province, China.” Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 30: 267-300. (Judith A. McMorrow, Sida Liu, and Benjamin van Rooij)

2017. "The Elastic Ceiling: Gender and Professional Career in Chinese Courts." Law & Society Review 51(1): 168-199. (Chunyan Zheng, Jiahui Ai, and Sida Liu)

2017. "Internationalizing Chinese Legal Education in the Early Twenty-First Century." Journal of Legal Education 66(2): 237-266. (Zhizhou Wang, Sida Liu, and Xueyao Li)

2016. "The Ecology of Organizational Growth: Chinese Law Firms in the Age of Globalization." American Journal of Sociology 122(3): 798-837. (Sida Liu and Hongqi Wu)

2016. "Mapping the Ecology of China's Corporate Legal Sector: Globalization and Its Impact on Lawyers and Society." Asian Journal of Law and Society 3(2): 273-297. (Sida Liu, David M. Trubek, and David B. Wilkins)

2016. "Field and Ecology." Sociological Theory 34(1): 62-79. (Sida Liu and Mustafa Emirbayer)

2015. “The Fall and Rise of Law and Social Science in China.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 11: 373-394. (Sida Liu and Zhizhou Wang)

2015. “Advocates, Experts, and Suspects: Three Images of Lawyers in Chinese Media Reports.” International Journal of the Legal Profession 21(2): 195-212. (Cheng-Tong Lir Wang, Sida Liu, and Terence C. Halliday)

2015. “Law’s Social Forms: A Powerless Approach to the Sociology of Law.” Law & Social Inquiry 40(1): 1-28.

2015. “Boundary Work and Exchange: The Formation of a Professional Service Market.” Symbolic Interaction 38(1): 1-21.

2014. “Migration and Social Structure: The Spatial Mobility of Chinese Lawyers.” Law & Policy 36(2): 165-194. (Sida Liu, Lily Liang, and Ethan Michelson)

2014. “The Trial of Li Zhuang: Chinese Lawyers’ Collective Action against Populism.” Asian Journal of Law and Society 1(1): 79-97. (Sida Liu, Lily Liang, and Terence C. Halliday)

2013. “The Legal Profession as a Social Process: A Theory on Lawyers and Globalization.” Law & Social Inquiry 38(3): 670-693.

2012. “Palace Wars over Professional Regulation: In-House Counsel in Chinese State-Owned Enterprises.” Wisconsin Law Review 2012: 549-571.

2012. “The Learning Process of Globalization: How Chinese Law Firms Survived the Financial Crisis.” Fordham Law Review 80: 2847-2866. (Xueyao Li and Sida Liu)

2011. “Political Liberalism and Political Embeddedness: Understanding Politics in the Work of Chinese Criminal Defense Lawyers.” Law & Society Review 45(4): 831-865. (Sida Liu and Terence C. Halliday)

2011. “Lawyers, State Officials, and Significant Others: Symbiotic Exchange in the Chinese Legal Services Market.” China Quarterly 206: 276-293.

2010. “The Politics of Crime, Punishment, and Social Order in East Asia.” Annual Review of Law & Social Science 6: 239-258. (David Leheny and Sida Liu)

2009. “Recursivity in Legal Change: Lawyers and Reforms of China’s Criminal Procedure Law.” Law & Social Inquiry 34(4): 911-950. (Sida Liu and Terence C. Halliday)

2008. “Globalization as Boundary-Blurring: International and Local Law Firms in China’s Corporate Law Market.” Law & Society Review 42(4): 771-804.

2006. “Client Influence and the Contingency of Professionalism: The Work of Elite Corporate Lawyers in China.” Law & Society Review 40(4): 751-782.

2006. “Beyond Global Convergence: Conflicts of Legitimacy in a Chinese Lower Court.” Law & Social Inquiry 31(1): 75-106.

Book Chapters

2021. "Censorship: State Control of Expression." Pp. 86-89 in Routledge Handbook of Law and Society, eds. M. Valverde, K. M. Clarke, E. Darian-Smith, and P. Kotiswaran. London: Routledge. (Sida Liu and Di Wang)

2020. “China: A Tale of Four Decades.” Pp. 697-711 in Lawyers in 21st-Century Societies, Vol. 1, National Reports, eds. R. L. Abel, O. Hammerslev, H. Sommerlad, and U. Schultz. Oxford: Hart Publishing. 

2018. "Beyond the Manifesto: Mustafa Emirbayer and Relational Sociology." Pp. 395-411 in Palgrave Handbook of Relational Sociology, ed. F. Depelteau. London: Palgrave Mcmillan. (Lily Liang and Sida Liu)

2016. “The Changing Roles of Lawyers in China: State Bureaucrats, Market Brokers, and Political Activists.” Pp. 180-197 in The New Legal Realism: Studying Law Globally (Vol. 2), eds. H. Klug and S. E. Merry. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

2014. “Foreword 2014.” The Sociology of Professions: Lawyers, Doctors, and Others, eds. R. Dingwall and P. Lewis. New Orleans, LA: Quid Pro Books.

2014. “Professional Ecologies.” Pp. 1892-1895 in The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society, eds. W. C. Cockerham, R. Dingwall, and S. R. Quah. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

2011. “With or Without the Law: The Changing Meaning of Ordinary Legal Work in China, 1979-2003.” Pp. 234-266 in Chinese Justice: Civil Dispute Resolution in Contemporary China, eds. M. Y. K. Woo, M. E. Gallagher, and M. Goldman. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

2010. “What Do Chinese Lawyers Want? Political Values and Legal Practice.” Pp. 310-333 in China’s Emerging Middle Class: Beyond Economic Transformation, ed. C. Li. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. (Ethan Michelson and Sida Liu)

2007. “Birth of a Liberal Moment? Looking through a One-Way Mirror at Lawyers’ Defense of Criminal Defendants in China.” Pp. 65-107 in Fighting for Political Freedom: Comparative Studies of the Legal Complex and Political Liberalism, eds. T. C. Halliday, L. Karpik, and M. M. Feeley. Oxford: Hart Publishing. (Terence C. Halliday and Sida Liu)

Book Reviews

2018. Chinese Small Property: The Co-Evolution of Law and Social Norms. By Shitong Qiao. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Asian Journal of Law and Society 5(2): 467-484.

2018. Justice: The China Experience. Edited by Flora Sapio, Susan Trevaskes, Sarah Biddulph, and Elisa Nesossi. Chinese Legal Reform and Global Legal Order: Adoption and Adaptation. Edited by Yun Zhao and Michael Ng. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. China Quarterly 235: 884-886. 

2014. Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence. By Rachel E. Stern. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Law & Society Review 48(4): 989-991.

2014. Chinese Criminal Trials: A Comprehensive Empirical Inquiry. By Ni He. New York: Springer. Crime, Law and Social Change 62(1): 87-89.

2011. Myth of the Social Volcano: Perceptions of Inequality and Distributive Injustice in Contemporary China. By Martin K. Whyte. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Contemporary Sociology 40(3): 357-358.

2009. China Modernizes: Threat to the West or Model for the Rest? By Randall Peerenboom. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Pacific Affairs 82(2): 322-323. 

In Chinese:


2017. 《割据的逻辑:中国法律服务市场的生态分析》(增订本),南京:译林出版社。[The Logic of Fragmentation: An Ecological Analysis of the Chinese Legal Services Market (Revised Edition). Nanjing: Yilin Press.]

2011. 《割据的逻辑:中国法律服务市场的生态分析》,上海:上海三联书店。[The Logic of Fragmentation: An Ecological Analysis of the Chinese Legal Services Market. Shanghai: Shanghai Joint Publishing Co.]

2009. 《霍姆斯读本:论文与公共演讲选集》,上海:上海三联书店(译著)。[The Holmes Reader: Selected Essays and Public Speeches of Justice Oliver W. Holmes, Jr. Shanghai: Shanghai Joint Publishing Co. (Translation)]

2008. 《失落的城邦:当代中国法律职业变迁》,北京:北京大学出版社。[The Lost Polis: Transformation of the Legal Profession in Contemporary China. Beijing: Peking University Press.]

Journal Articles

2017. 《基层法院审判委员会压力案件决策的实证研究》,《法学研究》,2017年第1期,第80-99页(王伦刚、刘思达)。["An Empirical Study on How the Adjudication Committee in Basic-Level Courts Makes Decisions on Cases with External Pressure.” Chinese Journal of Law 2017(1): 80-99. (Lungang Wang and Sida Liu)]

2016. 《从实体追责到程序之治:中国法院错案追究制运行的实证考察》,《法学家》,2016年第2期,第27-40页(王伦刚、刘思达)。[“From Substantive Responsibility to the Rule of Procedure: An Empirical Study of the Operation of the Wrongful Case Responsibility System in China.” The Jurist 2016(2): 27-40. (Lungang Wang and Sida Liu)]

2016. 《美国“法律与社会运动”的兴起与批判:兼议中国社科法学的未来走向》,《交大法学》,2016年第1期,第20-33页。["The Rise and Critique of the "Law and Society Movement" in the United States: On the Future Directions of Law and Social Sciences in China." SJTU Law Review 2016(1): 20-33.] 

2014. 《中国法律的形状》,《中外法学》,2014年第4期,第1024-1044页。[“The Shape of Chinese Law.” Peking University Law Journal 2014(4): 1024-1044.]  (English version)

2013. 《法律职业的政治命运》,《交大法学》,2013年第1期,第93-100页。[“The Political Fate of the Legal Profession.” SJTU Law Review 2013(1): 93-100.]

2010. 《中国法律社会学的历史与反思》,《法律和社会科学》,第7卷,第25-37页。[“The History and Reflection of the Sociology of Law in China.” Law and Social Sciences 7: 25-37.]

2010. 《法律边疆地区的纠纷解决与职业系统》,《社会学研究》,2010年第1期,第130-156页(刘思达、吴洪淇)。[“Dispute Resolution and the System of Professions in the Frontier of the Legal Services Market.” Sociological Studies 2010(1): 130-156. (Sida Liu and Wu Hongqi)]

2009. 《法律职业研究的死与生》,《社会理论》,第5期,第1-16页。[“The Death and Life of Research on the Legal Profession.” Social Theory 5: 1-16.]

2008. 《立法、实践与政治过程:谈“冤案”与律师刑事辩护难的成因》,《清华法治论衡》,第10辑,第73-89页。[“Lawmaking, Practice, and the Political Process: On ‘Wrong Cases’ and the Origins of Lawyers’ Difficulties in Criminal Defense.” Tsinghua Journal of Rule of Law 10: 73-89.]

2007. 《当代中国日常法律工作的意涵变迁(1979-2003)》,《中国社会科学》,2007年第2期,第90-105页。[“The Changing Meaning of Ordinary Legal Work in China (1979-2003).” Social Sciences in China 2007(2): 90-105.]

2006. 《职业自主性与国家干预:西方职业社会学研究述评》,《社会学研究》,2006年第1期,第197-224页。[“Professional Autonomy and State Intervention: A Review of the Sociology of Professions in the Western Countries.” Sociological Studies 2006(1): 197-224.]

2005. 《分化的律师业与职业主义的建构》,《中外法学》,2005年第4期,第400-414页。[“The Differentiated Legal Profession and the Construction of Professionalism.” Peking University Law Journal 2005(4): 400-414.]

2005. 《法律移植与合法性冲突:现代性语境下的中国基层司法》,《社会学研究》,2005年第3期,第20-51页。[“Legal Transplants and the Conflicts of Legitimacy: Chinese Grassroots Judicial Practice in the Context of Modernity.” Sociological Studies 2005(3): 20-51.]

Book Chapters

2006. 《经典社会理论中的法律:马克思、涂尔干、韦伯与法律社会学》,收于《社会理论之法:解读与评析》,高鸿钧、马剑银(编),北京:清华大学出版社,第381-403页。[“Law in Classical Social Theory: Marx, Durkheim, Weber and the Sociology of Law.” Pp. 381-403 in Law in Social Theory: Interpretations and Comments, eds. Gao Hongjun and Ma Jianyin. Beijing: Tsinghua University Press.]


Sida Liu

Sociologist of Law