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Airborne: Pollution, Climate Change, and Visions of Sustainability in China (completed)

Airborne studies human dimensions of air pollution in China in a historical perspective. How do people’s experiences and fears of air pollution transform into new visions of sustainability and creative forms of action?

Facemasks on a male statue.

In 2013, people concerned with air pollution provided statues in Beijing University with face masks.


About Airborne

Airborne starts from the assumption that people’s experiences and imaginaries of the impact of air pollution are in the process of transforming into entirely new visions of sustainability and creative forms of action in China, the world’s largest energy consuming state. We explore how political authorities, industry, scientists, population and media interact in responding to the inseparable risks of air pollution in China and global climate change.

Airborne is organized in three interdisciplinary cases where sub-studies are carried out in smaller research teams with scholars from the disciplines of anthropology, political science, chemistry, media science, and sinology. 

The project period runs from March 1st 2015 to February 28th 2019. 

About Airborne in Chinese



The project will conduct a historically grounded and future-oriented study into how popular experiences and scientifically produced knowledge of air pollution and climate change lead to new and creative mitigation policies and expectations of sustainable lifestyles in China.


Research started in March 2015. After more than a year of collective data collection, the project participants will gather from August 2016 to July 2017 at the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) in Oslo to start co-writing articles for an international readership and for an edited book in Chinese aimed at a broader readership.

Following the year at CAS participants will proceed with further data collection, and  a smaller team will start co-writing an academic monograph aimed at an international top-level academic publisher. Other individual and co-written articles will be produced continuously throughout the project period.

Two Phd students will finalize their thesis in 2018, and one postdoctoral scholar will publish two articles in international journals.

Airborne wants to promote co-publication across national and disciplinary boundaries, and to support junior and female scholars in the field of environmental and China studies.

Furthermore, Airborne aims to disseminate its findings to a broader public in Norway and China, and wants to engage in discussion and dialogue with interested environmental organizations and environmental bureaus in China and elsewhere.


Airborne has funding from:

  • The Research Council of Norway (FRIPRO) for 4 years (from March 2015).
  • Centre for Advanced Study (Senter for grunnforskning) for 11 months (August 2016 - July 2017).
  • The Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Studies, University of Oslo.
  • The research program UiO: Energy, University of Oslo.
  • Zhejiang University


The project's main partner institution in China is the Institute of Anthropology at Zhejiang University.


  • Rune Svarverud (2019). Genealogy of Chinese Perceptions of “Polluted Air”: Conceptual Change and the Terminological Landscape of Air Pollution in Modern China. 東亞觀念史集刊.  ISSN 2303-9205.  17
  • Mette Halskov Hansen & Anna Lisa Ahlers (2017). Air Pollution: How Will China Win its Self-Declared War Against it?, In Eva Sternfeld (ed.),  Routledge Handbook of Environmental Policy in China.  Routledge.  ISBN 1138831115.  kapittel.
  • Rune Svarverud (2014). The Terminological Battle for 'Air' in Modern China. Wakumon.  ISSN 1345-9899.  26, s 23- 44

View all works in Cristin

  •  (2015). Protest against Industrial Air Pollution: A Case from Hangzhou City, China.
  • Anna Lisa Ahlers (2015). 鲁尔区“变回蓝天”对北京的启示 (Title of English version: "How the Sky over the Ruhr Became Blue Again - Or: A German researcher’s optimism about China’s opportunities to tackle the problem of air pollution"). 小康 Xiaokang (Insight China).  ISSN 1672-4879.

View all works in Cristin

Tags: China, Air pollution, Environment, Climate, Sustainability
Published May 6, 2013 9:18 AM - Last modified Apr. 5, 2020 9:48 PM


Mette Halskov Hansen (Project manager)

+47 41547876