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Disputation: Awareness of air pollution is increasing in China - and it has political consquences

Master Hedda Flatø at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages will defend her dissertation Polluted Perspectives: Environmental Troubles and Popular Political Attitudes in China for the degree of ph.d.

Doktorgradskandidat Hedda Flatø

Air pollution is purportedly a challenge to the popular standing of the Communist Party of China's rule, especially after severe haze events in the 2010s. However, many tenets of this “environmental performance legitimacy” thesis remain assumed rather than demonstrated. There is a lack of nationally representative studies on systematic linkages between air pollution, environmental awareness and attitudes towards government across Mainland China’s population. Does air pollution really matter to politically relevant attitudes among Chinese citizens?

Hedda Flatø’s PhD dissertation contributes analytical tools and empirical evidence that can enhance our understanding of what happens to citizen attitudes towards government if they “see” it through a veil of smog. First, she develops an analytical framework for assessing possible linkages between performance outcomes and politically relevant popular opinion. Second, she applies the framework in empirical studies utilizing nationally representative face-to-face survey data from 2009 and 2014 (N=2866, 2507) combined with satellite-based, fine-grained PM2.5 measures and community-level statistics.

In three articles, she shows that air pollution awareness increased and spread out with the "Airpocalypse" in China, mainly among citizens living with high PM2.5 levels and in localities that were not strongly dependent on secondary industry. Probability for expressing environmental policy preference was higher among citizens who were aware of the presence of pollution. However, she found class differences in environmental policy preference which did not have to do with differences in awareness. Air pollution was also associated with lower probability for reporting trust in sub-national governments. Hedda Flatø’s research implies that people can change their minds about air pollution under certain conditions; and that air pollution and citizens’ perceptions of it may affect popular attitudes towards environmental policies and political institutions.


Hedda Flatø successfully defended her dissertation on December 15, 2020.

Trial lecture

"Adaptive Authoritarianism in China: What are the Feedback Mechanisms?"


Evaluation committee

  • Professor Björn Alperman, Universität Würzburg (first opponent)
  • Professor Wenfang Tang, Hong Kong University of Science
    and Technology (second opponent)
  • Professor Mette Halskov Hansen, University of Oslo (administrator)



  • Dr. Anna Lisa Ahlers, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
  • Senior Lecturer Neil Munro, University of Glasgow, School of Social and Political Sciences
Tags: Disputaser ved HF, Disputas
Published Dec. 3, 2020 9:38 AM - Last modified Feb. 5, 2021 3:24 PM