Academic journal article Law & Society Review

The Role of Emotion in Land Regulation: An Empirical Study of Online Advocacy in Authoritarian Asia

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

The Role of Emotion in Land Regulation: An Empirical Study of Online Advocacy in Authoritarian Asia

Article excerpt

¡Scholarly interest regarding online advocacy1 in authoritarian settings is growing rapidly (Land 2009; Lei and Zhou 2015; Rauchfleisch and Schafer 2015). The critical role of online advocacy in fomenting the Jasmine Revolutions in North Africa (Chandler 2012) and in shaping legal and regulatory decisionmaking in China has been well researched (Lei and Zhou 2015; Tang 2015). Studies show that even authoritarian regimes, with their urge to control electoral processes, courts, and public discourse, struggle to co-opt the diverse online exchanges that frame regulatory decisionmaking (Tang 2015; Wells-Dang 2012). Much research about online advocacy focuses on "rational" discourse,2 and fails to ask why satire and ridicule can change regulatory outcomes when reasoned debate fails (Lei and Zhou 2015; Tang 2015). This article takes up this inquiry by exploring how online advocacy can trigger emotional responses3 that shape regulatory decisionmaking in Vietnam.

Possessing one of Asia's most active social media environments,4 Vietnam is a promising country in which to investigate online advocacy. Vietnamese bloggers have advocated regulatory reform in diverse areas such as the constitutional separation of powers (Morris-Jung 2015), same-sex marriage (Quinn and Kierans 2010), and environmental protection (Grey 2015; Wells-Dang 2012). This article advances the literature by investigating how online advocates influenced urban regulation. It explores a regulatory puzzle: how does online advocacy overcome Soviet-based governance practices in Vietnam, which insist on rational and scientific regulatory processes (Pham Diem 2013), and arouse emotional responses in regulators that open them to new ways of understanding and governing cities?

It turns out that the conceptual divide between rational and emotional regulation has deep historical roots. As Maroney (2006: 120) explains:

A core presumption underlying modern legality is that reason and emotion are different beasts entirely: they belong to separate spheres of human existence; the sphere of law admits only of reason; and vigilant policing is required to keep emotion from creeping in where it does not belong.

This duality of reason and emotion has shaped legal theory well beyond Europe (Habermas 1992: 10-27) and America (Abrams and Keren 2010: 2003-08). It arguably reached a zenith in scientific and rational Soviet governance (Quigley 1989), which then influenced government regulators in China and Vietnam (Gillespie 2011; Pha m D iem 2013). In both Western and socialist legal traditions, government regulation is regarded as the product of well-prepared and systematic rational processes that codify relevant information. Emotions, and those aspects of social life involving feelings, are considered messy, unbounded, and outside regulatory processes.

This article turns to a growing body of research that challenges this dualistic thinking. Social science has long recognized that emotions are inextricably linked to thoughts and beliefs (Durkheim 2001). Transporting this work into the legal arena, feminist scholars such as Minow and Spelman (1988) questioned the assumption that emotion is distinct from, and alien to, legal and regulatory decisionmaking, and then queried the qualities of detachment and impartiality that are conventionally associated with legal reasoning. Adding to this body of work, Felstiner et al.'s (1980: 632-37) seminal "naming, blaming and claiming" study revealed the critical role that emotions play in the emergence and regulation of disputes. This scholarship departed from previous legal studies by treating emotions as instruments that fine-tune legal decisionmaking, rather than impulses that lead us astray (Abrams and Keren 2010; Maroney 2016).

More recent studies have examined how emotion influences the actors who populate legal systems, such as litigants (Huang and Wu 1992), judges (Bandes 2009), lawyers (Ammar and Downey 2003), and juries (Sarat 2001). …

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