Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Political Science, City University of New York (CUNY) / John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Sociology, Indiana University / Bloomington
Seeking Divorce in the Countryside: Marital Grievances, Dispute Resolutions, and Gender Inequalities in Contemporary China

By studying rural women seeking divorce, this dissertation project will explore the help-seeking behaviors of two enormous segments of the Chinese population: rural residents and women. In post-Mao rural China, how have rapid social changes affected marriage and family life? To what extent and by what means do rural residents mobilize state law to address marital grievances? In what ways does a grassroots legal system redress inequities and injustices and in what ways does it reproduce and reinforce them? These questions are intrinsically important insofar as rural Chinese account for a sizable chunk (over 10 percent) of humanity, and an even greater proportion of humanity seeking divorce. Moreover, in China, women are far more likely than men to initiate divorce litigation. In recent years, this gender disparity in divorce lawsuits has become ever more pronounced in the countryside. However, to date no research has explored Chinese women's litigiousness. In highlighting these two social groups (rural residents and women), this project will be the first systematic research on the character of grievances rural women harbor, how they seek justice through legal channels, and the needs and wants they experience throughout disputing processes. I intend to address these research questions through an ethnographic study of divorce litigation in a rural county in southwest China. My research will proceed in four steps. First, I will examine rural women's experiences of seeking legal assistance via the burgeoning legal services market. Second, I will investigate how these women pursue legal remedies for divorce and how basic-level courts respond to their initiatives. Third, I will explore how marital disputes are processed outside the legal system. Finally, my fieldwork will unravel the social forces that are transforming marriage, family, and gender relationships. Together, these inquires will cast new light on law, gender, and politics in contemporary China.