ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE AND THE DEPARTMENT OF AFRICA, OCEANIA AND THE AMERICAS OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

(P37)
Is "sustainable living" possible? People, society, and nature in Chinese societies
Location Senate House - Bedford Room
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Loretta Ieng Tak Lou (University of Warwick) email

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Discussant Anna Lora-Wainwright, Andrea E. Pia

Short Abstract

This panel brings together research on environmental subjectivity. In exploring grassroots interventions in contemporary China, we ask if sustainable living is possible through these acts by reflecting on their implications for civil society, green capitalism, and the global environmental movement.

Long Abstract

Decades of unrestrained development has made China's environmental degradation as breathtaking as its economic miracles. Sustainable development and effective enforcement of pollution control remain a challenging task in most parts of China. However, a number of recent studies have shown that a grassroots "green movement" is under way in Chinese societies. As Chai Jing posed the question in her influential documentary about air pollution in China, Chinese citizens, especially the emerging middle class, have lost the patience to wait for the government to respond to the problem. More and more citizens choose to address their concerns about pollution, climate change, and the social, political, and moral ramifications of rising neoliberal values through the means of religion, art, music, vegetarianism, self-cultivation, sustainable farming, ethical consumption, corporate social responsibility (CSR), social entrepreneurship, green credits, and numerous mundane everyday practices like BYOB, recycling, cleaning one's plate, etc. Unlike environmental protests that have the potential to become a political upheaval, such interventions rarely catch the attention of the media as they tend to emphasizes cooperation, communication, and individual change.

This panel brings together scholars whose work focus on agency and the formation of "environmental subjectivity" in the broadest sense. In exploring the rich ethnographic accounts of these bottom-up interventions in contemporary Chinese societies (including work about Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, etc.), we ask if sustainable living is possible through such interventions by reflecting on their implications for civil society, green capitalism, authoritarianism, and the global environmental movement.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

What is to be sustained? On "green living" as a politics of hope in Hong Kong

Author: Loretta Ieng Tak Lou (University of Warwick)  email

Short Abstract

Through an ethnographic study of "green living" in post-colonial Hong Kong, this paper hopes to illuminate how discourses and practices of "sustainability" are appropriated by people in various contexts to think and to talk about a socio-political "otherwise".

Long Abstract

In Hong Kong, "Green living" is an umbrella term used by individuals, NGOs, and the government to refer to a way of living that is perceived to be good to the Earth and good to the people. It is also a social movement that take personal responsibility for the environment and the society at large. Although the green living movement in Hong Kong is influenced by the global appeal to environmental protection and sustainable development, the specificities of the movement are shaped by Hong Kong's unique historical conjuncture and the socio-political climate after the former British colony shifted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. In light of this background, I argue that what the Hong Kong people want to sustain is not just the natural environment, but also the social norms and ways of living that are thought to distinguish them from their counterparts in China. In this sense, green living in HK is best understood as a form of everyday activism through which the politics of hope is enacted to resist the "politics of endangerment" (Choy 2011). This ethnographic study hopes to illuminate the ways discourses and practices of "sustainability" are appropriated by people in various contexts to think and to talk about a social and political "otherwise". I show that it is its potentiality for self-transformation and the power to generate hope and solidarity that make sustainability so attractive in post-colonial Hong Kong.

Understanding the role of environmental subjectivities in shaping collaborative governance of reforestation in China.

Author: Yurong Liu (University of Arizona)  email

Short Abstract

To what extent could government share its responsibility and power of governance with non-state actors in China? A comparative case study involving actors embodying different forms of neoliberal values explores how reforestation is being implemented in arid regions of Shanxi and Gansu province, China.

Long Abstract

In China, where civil society is shaped by rationalizing priorities of state structures and economic interests, environmental issues are considered critical for changing state and society relations. This paper distills environmental subjectivities through comparative case studies involving actors embodying different forms of neoliberal values to explore how reforestation is being implemented in rural China. I conceptualized the type of restoration imperative (scientific, utilitarian, ethical) that enabled the provincial forestry agency, local agencies and a Hong-Kong-based NGO to initiate collaborative reforestation in Shanxi and Gansu, to understand why farmers participated less in collaboration efforts. Data from interviews and ethnographic study are collected to understand how collaboration enable mental model changes about social actors' role in reforestation and what constitute sustainable development.

Tibetan Ecological Entrepreneurs and Buddhist Environmental Ethics: Balancing Commodity Economies, Ethnic Representation, and Ecological Health in Shangri-La, China

Author: Brendan Galipeau (University of Hawai'i at Manoa)  email

Short Abstract

This paper asks what drives rural Tibetan wine makers to pursue an ecologically friendly agenda? Reasonings include observations of chemical degradation on land, Buddhist ethnics, and new conceptions towards how ethnic representation can be exemplified by ecologically friendly commodity production.

Long Abstract

While smallholder agricultural communities in China are pushed to produce cash crops under government incentives promoting development, such undertakings often overlook ecological health and sustainability. However community awareness of such sustainability is not always non-existent, and in some cases commodity schemes may be altered to promote ecologically sound practices and healthy living. This paper examines such considerations among Tibetan grape and wine producing communities in Yunnan Province, where over ten years vast areas have been transformed into monocrop vineyards for government promoted "Shangri-La Wine," marketed using Tibetan culture and the serenity of this Himalayan region. Despite these marketing developments of "natural" wine products, the emergence of this industry has led to rapid development in the use of agricultural chemicals introduced by wine companies and government extension workers, the effects of which are not lost on local communities. In this paper I explore this trend to inquire into what ways villagers have developed their own understandings of concepts such as organic, and how these have influenced their own identities as household wine makers and rural Tibetans; an ethnic group often viewed by Chinese consumers as being strong environmental stewards. Utilizing a framework of "green" marketing and Buddhist ethics, I examine how villagers have responded to personal concerns over chemical use on health and environments, including perceived pollution impacts on local retreating glaciers, to begin to produce their own chemical free wines, which they insist are healthier and more desirable than corporate varietals, such as the "Shangri-La" brand.

Sustaining Livelihood: Risk Perceptions of Yi Farmers under Agricultural Transformation in Yunnan, Southwest China

Author: Xiaoyue Li (Oregon State University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores Yi farmers' risk perceptions on a variety of hazardous weather events and a series of policy changes under agricultural transformation and addresses the uncertainty that farmers are facing to gain some insights on how Yi people sustain livelihood under dramatic transformation.

Long Abstract

When witnessing and experiencing the dramatic agricultural transformation from subsistence farming to cash cropping, what are the strategies that Yi farmers have adopted to cope with such changes, and what are the perceptions Yi famers have gained towards various hazardous weather events and policy changes? To address both questions above-mentioned, this paper uses a mixed method to explore Yi farmers' livelihood in a remote village named Zhanhe in Ninglang Yi Autonomous County, which is located on the edge of Northeast Yunnan, China.

I present the results of approximately 40 semi-structured interviews and 130 household surveys with Zhanhe residents, which aims to gain understandings on Yi farmers' risk perceptions regarding sustaining their livelihoods under agricultural transformation. Although the results show that Yi farmers are inclined to embrace the new agricultural policy, which emphasizes on replacing subsistence crops, such as tartary buckwheat, with commercial crops such as Walnut and Chinese medicine, their responses suggest that there are a great deal of uncertainties involved at the same time. I interpret the findings in the context of literature on cultural theory of risk and China's modernization trend for understanding the interrelationship between economic development and the uncertainties that farmers are facing. I consider the implications of these findings for better navigating agricultural policies in rural China today.

On the Dual Identity of Air Pollution and Sustainable Politics in China

Author: Edwin Schmitt (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)  email

Short Abstract

In China concern with climate change is greatly overwhelmed by another identity of air pollution: smog. This paper attempts to address why Chinese society has stressed one identity over another and how this duality impacts sustainability.

Long Abstract

The global concern with climate change as a result of human induced air pollution, often identified as greenhouse gases, is the penultimate example of global environmental politics in action. However, in China this level of concern with climate change is greatly overwhelmed by another identity of air pollution: smog. This paper attempts to address why Chinese society has stressed one identity over another and how this duality impacts sustainability. One explanation shows that this duality is the creation of a discourse within the media and that the Chinese government is very active in shaping this discourse as they see fit. However, the spread of such a discourse by the media and government is formed in a dialectal reaction to social perceptions and cultural interpretations of air pollution as a material which impacts the lives of a billion individuals. This paper argues that it is the perception of smog as being socially "near" which allows the discourse to resonate with the Chinese populace in a way that clearly takes precedence over a concern with climate change which for most is perceived as being socially "far". The paper will consider how these notions of nearness and farness structure a social discourse which further entrenches the possibility that a society will suffer from environmental problems. Finally, it is necessary to critique this notion of a dual identity air pollution as there is much to gain by bringing the two identities together which could be beneficial for sustainable politics in China and beyond.

Remodeling rooftop squatting with solar photovoltaic systems in Taiwan: An ethnography and an urban political ecology of governing informality

Author: Chihsin Chiu (Fu Jen Catholic University)  email

Short Abstract

 

Long Abstract

Contemporary development studies suggest a contextualized, flexible mode of urban policies governing informal housing. The renewable energy policies have encouraged the local states in Taiwan to incorporate solar photovoltaic systems into residential rooftops as a way to legalize existing squatting. The interrelationships among nature, society, and urban environment inherent to new governance strategies require further investigation in order to uncover potential socio-economic inequity. The study will interview rooftop squatters, asking them to document their typical uses of rooftops; it also conducts case studies of property owners applying for the rebuilding with local governments to legalize their rooftop squatting. Adopting a theoretical framework of urban political ecology, this study addresses dialectical relationships among sustainable technologies, urban development, local community, and green economy. Research findings will provide insights on urban political ecology, environmental psychology, and urban studies. It will also help us to rethink spatial practices of architectural and urban design when it comes to governing urban informality.

Keywords: Solar Photovoltaics (PV) , green energy, squatting, urban political ecology, Taiwan

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.