Resigned Activism: Living with Pollution in Rural China

By Anna Lora-Wainwright. Open for all.

Fertiliser plant in Yunnan, China.

Pollution is one of the most pressing issues facing contemporary China and among the most prominent causes for unrest. Much of industry and mining takes place in rural areas, yet we know little about how rural communities affected by severe pollution make sense of it and the diverse form of activism they embrace. This talk draws on my new book to describe some of these engagements with pollution touching on three in-depth case studies. It argues for a more encompassing, holistic and diachronic study of pollution as it is experienced in its local contexts. It promotes an anthropological study of how villagers experience pollution, what socio-economic and political relations exist between communities, local officials and polluting firms, how patterns of action and inaction develop and how they relate to shifting definitions of health, environment, development and a good life. The term “resigned activism” serves as a conceptual tool to attend to subtle shifts in parameters and expectations and to the diverse forms of environmental engagement that they support. It encapsulates a spectrum of perceptions and practices comprising acts that may fit the conventional label of collective environmental contention, such as protesting at the factory gates and filing petitions. But it also includes less confrontational and more individualised or family-oriented tactics aimed at minimising pollution in one’s immediate surroundings.

Anna Lora-Wainwright is Associate Professor of the Human Geography of China in the School of Geography and the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Resigned Activism: Living with Pollution in Rural China (2017) and Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in Rural China (2013).

Published Aug. 25, 2017 11:48 AM - Last modified Aug. 25, 2017 11:49 AM