Risk, pollution and sustainability in rural Sichuan, China
In this dissertation, I illustrate how people's perceptions of risk from industrial pollution in southwest China are shaped by political, social and economic factors at work within and beyond the study community. Futian Township, located in the Panzhihua municipality in southern Sichuan province, is used as a case study for exploring this topic. It is a mixed ethnic township consisting primarily of Shuitian Yi and Han residents. In contrast to previous work on the psychological dimensions of risk perception, I use a political ecology framework to analyze how the environmental risks associated with industrial pollution were produced through political and economic processes, and how community members understand and cope with the pollution problem. The dissertation is based primarily on data gathered during fieldwork in 2002--2003. I used a variety of research methods, including ethnographic participant-observation, in-depth interviews, quantitative survey questionnaires, and scientific air quality monitoring.The results indicate that, although community members are all exposed to levels of air pollution (PM10) that far exceed standards set by the Chinese government, their perceptions of the local pollution problem are varied. In general, most community members perceive a significant threat to their health and livelihoods from industrial pollution, and this finding stands in contrast to the inherited wisdom in risk studies that poor individuals and communities tend to worry less about environmental risk. In addition, individual perceptions of local pollution are linked to one's position within the local political economy. This is in part because of structural and economic reforms in China's rural industrial sector that encourage privatization of local factories, and also because of the particularly deleterious consequences of industrial pollution for the community's agricultural households.The dissertation also documents the forced closure of local factories by officials from the State Environmental Protection Agency for failure to comply with emissions standards. This event, and its economic consequences, illustrates how state actors at different levels of the government bureaucracy understand and act upon key concepts such as "pollution" and "sustainable development."
- Anthropology