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The vanishing margin: an ethnography of state water provisions in the environmentally degraded Chinese countryside

Pia, Andrea (2015) The vanishing margin: an ethnography of state water provisions in the environmentally degraded Chinese countryside. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Based on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork between September 2011 and December 2013 in rural Yunnan, this dissertation explores the political and technical project of making water available to human use in a time of drought and environmental stress. In particular, it focuses on the collective challenge undertaken by people in this part of China to keep the water flowing through their land and their communities against many and diverse odds. The main questions it addresses are: How is water shortage experienced and confronted by Chinese citizens? How is water circulated among different people and what kind of cultural practices and institutions do they create in the attempt to meet this very basic human need? What kind of social relationships and relationships with the environment ensue from this attempt? What does it take to keep the water flowing in present day, environmentally degraded rural China? The overarching argument of the dissertation is that if fresh water still remains available in north-eastern Yunnan, this is not solely thanks to State policies or to the rational strategies adopted by public and private entities, but more significantly to the commitment of ordinary villagers and local officials who are doing their best to keep flourishing in what has now become a water-poor area. Because water keeps running thanks largely to the technical knowledge and dedication of ordinary people, it can be said that its management has a human dimension. Relationships of care and dependence, but also of mistrust and antagonism, are implicated in the active project of distributing and allocating fresh water for human use, inflecting the modalities and direction of its course. Securing water for human consumption is, above all else, a cooperative project: one pursued by people who are differently positioned across the social spectrum. By committing to this project, they also tighten and sustain human relationships, and envision the possibilities of a differently organised society in which water could be available to all.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Andrea Enrico Pia
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Stafford, Charles and Feuchtwang, Stephan

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