Fieldwork on pollution in a heavily industrialized Yunnan village

alorawainwrightAnna Lora-Wainwright (2013). The inadequate life: Rural industrial pollution and lay epidemiology in China. The China Quarterly. doi:10.1017/S0305741013000349.

Based on fieldwork in a heavily industrialized Yunnan village, this article examines how villagers understand and respond to pollution-related health risks. Building on Robert Weller’s (2006) concept of environmental consciousness, it shows that Baocun villagers have developed an acute environmental health consciousness. However, despite earlier instances of collective activism, they no longer act as a community to oppose the harm to their bodies caused by pollution. The article investigates the role of uncertainty surrounding illness causation in deterring action. It argues that uncertainty about pollution’s effects on health is reinforced by the social, political and economic contexts and developments in the past few decades. As a result, villagers engage in a form of “lay epidemiology” to make sense of the effects of pollution on their health, but not in a “popular epidemiology” consisting of collective action against presumed health damages. The article concludes with some thoughts on how locals act within and despite uncertainty.

 Anna Lora-Wainwright research

Anna’s work embodies a particular synergy between human geography and the study of China and focuses on environmental pollution, development and health in the Chinese countryside. She is a keen supporter of long-term ethnographic field research and since 2004 she has carried out a total of 18 months of fieldwork in Southwest China (Sichuan province and more recently Yunnan). Her work is concerned with unpacking the naturalisation of perceptions of health and pollution, how they are produced and their political economic overtones (for instance how dependence on a nearby factory might make pollution acceptable). This offers a new type of bottom-up political ecology, which does not assume local communities are passive and isolated victims of development and capitalist oppression, nor that they are inherently ‘nature-friendly’ but focuses on the agency of farmers or workers in polluting industries, potential conflicts of interests and attitudes to ‘clean nature’ versus ‘pollution’. More information

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Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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