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A Reasonable Balance of Law and Sentiment: Social Order in Democratic Taiwan from the Policeman's Point of View

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Taiwan's political democratization has engendered a contradiction in its legal regime: consolidation of rule of law at the macro-institutional level is matched by the persistent marginalization of legal authority in ground-level social practices. This article uses an ethnographic study of neighborhood police to explore certain practical and structural elements involved in maintaining this contradictory sociopolitical order. I examine some of the processes through which state authority is invoked and applied to the policing of public space, focusing on the ideals of legitimacy that animate these processes. The argument of the article is that historical and cultural factors embodied in contemporary Taiwan's “idea of police”—exemplified in the trope of a balance between reason, law, and sentiment—are crucial to understanding how solidification of the rule of law within state institutions is kept within the boundaries of a social sensibility that does not take law as the last word.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chang Jung University

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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