This article offers a comparative framework for studying why and how law is mobilized to advance justice claims by marginalized groups in Asia. In it, we build upon a series of collaborative exchanges between practitioners and scholars on the role of social justice lawyers in eleven Asian countries: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Based on lessons from this collaboration, we suggest that one way to understand variation in the type and scope of legal mobilization for the politically weak is in relation to two important domestic factors: political openness and autonomy of law. We use these factors to explore the institutions that shape legal mobilization across the region, focusing attention on how they influence sites and strategies for advancing justice in specific countries. We then consider how political openness and autonomy of law interact with global factors to influence the availability and type of funding for social justice work. Our main goal is to show how comparative analysis illuminates context-specific reasons for differences in social justice practice, while providing a framework to guide deeper investigation of the role of law in Asian development. A central finding from our research is that Asian lawyers who mobilize law for social justice, though marginal in numbers and status, often help to open new paths for change.
31 Wis. Int'l L.J. 353 (2013-2014)