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Dr Jeffrey Martin

Honorary Assistant Professor



I am an anthropologist of policing, with “policing” understood as both the governance of security and the administration of justice. Given the foundational significance of policing to modern social order this is an appropriate (if still somewhat unconventional) focus for anthropology conceived as the broad “science of the human condition.” It is also a useful framework within which to develop interdisciplinary conversations that bring social science, natural science and the humanities into a constructive dialogue about the issues of our times.

I am presently working on the following three questions:

  1. How does culture affect policing?
  2. How culturally flexible is the ideal of “democratic” policing?
  3. Can democratic policing deal adequately with environmental problems?

My area of geographic concern is “Greater China,” including Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Modern political institutions were established in these three places through different political histories, and this historical diversity is manifest in radically different contemporary architectures of governance. At the same time, all three places share elements of a common cultural heritage. This makes their contemporary contrasts a sort of natural experiment for studying interaction between historical institutions and cultural processes. Empirical focus on the contrasts of greater China refines the questions above, as follows:

  1. Does the practice of policing across the different governments of Greater China evidence a common jurisprudence or “legal consciousness” associated with a distinctively Chinese culture? My ethnographic research suggests that it does: people in all three places engage with social justice through the same ideological contrast between “human sentiment” (qing) and law. This discourse structures police practice across the region, raising historical questions about cultural influences on the role of law in state formation. I explore these issues in depth in my book manuscript Policing By Virtue: The ‘Civil Force’ in Taiwanese Democracy.
  2. All three governments claim to practice “democratic” policing, yet each endows the ideal with a completely different meaning. What sorts of cultural logics are evident in these different framings of the democratic ideal? How do different interpretations of democracy affect the actual practices state control? Does democratic policing with Chinese, Taiwanese or “Hong Kong style” characteristics provide a basis for rethinking normative ideals developed in reference to the European and Anglo-American experience? This question is the driving focus of a forthcoming special issue of Crime, Law & Social Change I developed around the theme of “Policing the Southern Chinese Seaboard.”
  3. Finally, political reform in contemporary China is increasingly driven by issues of environmental security and ecological justice. These issues have potential to change the balance of powers between capital, civil society and the party-state. On the front lines of policy implementation, key potential shifts in the regime appear as questions about “more” or “less” democracy. My current fieldwork examines municipal policing in the city of Xiamen. I focus on the way the new campaigns for “Ecological Civilization” reveal shifts in the police power driven by the growing urgency of specifically “environmental” forms of security. This project has the potential to reveal something about the tensions between technocratic and democratic values generated as our living environment is reconceptualized as an object of police.

I am investigating these three issues in partnership with a number of different intellectual communities: I have been a board member of the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology since 2010, was recently appointed as the Asia regional editor of Policing & Society, and I coordinate an informal policing studies seminar at The University of Hong Kong, called the East Asian Policing Studies Forum.


University of Chicago

Research interests

Ethnographic methods
Social theory
Political and legal anthropology
East Asia
Semiotic analysis
Police, policing and social control

Current research

How does culture affect policing?
How culturally flexible is the ideal of “democratic” policing?
Can democratic policing deal adequately with environmental problems?

Selected publications

Journal articles:

Martin, Jeffrey T. “The Confucian Ethic and the Spirit of East Asian Police: A Comparative Study in the Ideology of Democratic Policing.” Crime, Law & Social Change, 61.4 (2014): 461-90.

Martin, Jeffrey T., and Peter K. Manning. “Policing The Southern Chinese Seaboard.” Crime, Law & Social Change, 61.4 (2014): 369-76.

Martin, Jeffrey T., and Wayne Chan. “Hong Kong Style Community Policing: A Study of Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market.” Crime, Law & Social Change, 61.4 (2014): 401-16.

2013 “The Hukou and Traditional Virtue: An Ethnographic Note on Taiwanese Policing,” Theoretical Criminology, 17 (2): 261-269

2013 “Legitimate Force in a Particularistic Democracy: Street Police and Outlaw Legislators in the Republic of China on Taiwan,” Law & Social Inquiry, 38 (3): 615-642

2013 “Police as Linking Principle: Rethinking Police Culture in Contemporary Taiwan,” in William Garriott (ed.) Policing and Contemporary Governance: The Anthropology of Police in Practice. NY: Palgrave, pp.157-180

2012 “How Law Matters to the Taiwanese Police,” Anthropology News, 53 (10): p.10

2010 “Volunteer Police and the Production of Social Order in a Taiwanese Village,” Taiwan in Comparative Perspective, (3): pp. 33-49

2007 “A Reasonable Balance of Law and Sentiment: Social Order in Democratic Taiwan from the Policeman’s Point of View,” Law & Society Review, 41 (3): pp.665-697

See all publications in HKU Scholars Hub →