Catalysis of a Social Disaster: An Institutional History of the Energy Sector in China

This postdoctoral research project will examine how the production of energy is connected to the formation of political power found throughout Chinese society.

Postdoctoral Fellow Edwin A. Schmitt

In China, air pollution primarily derives from the dominant sources of energy: the combustion of coal and petroleum. The project aims to show that we can better understand the difficulty in mitigating or preventing air pollution in China by focusing on changes within the political institutions that manage the energy sector.

One unique aspect of the project is that it will examine the institutions of many different forms of energy production: coal, oil, hydropower, the electric grid, solar power and wind power. The project is also trying to understand the way different forms of energy result in different kinds of institutions. Clarifying the way these institutions work may also help explain why more environmentally-friendly sources of energy (like solar and wind) are, politically speaking, unable to effectively replace polluting energy sources like coal and oil.

While some of the research will be based on digging through government publications and archives, I also plan to conduct a set of oral history interviews with those who worked in the coal, hydropower and solar power industry. While the goal is to illuminate how China has managed its energy resources since 1949, the project will do so by providing a human face and everyday stories about what it was like to work in these institutions and locations of energy production at different periods of time.

By Edwin A. Schmitt
Published Oct. 9, 2017 7:20 PM - Last modified Oct. 10, 2017 4:51 PM