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Managing the dream of a green China: Chinese ENGOs’ daily practices and controversies

A, Rong (2019) Managing the dream of a green China: Chinese ENGOs’ daily practices and controversies. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This research explored how Chinese environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs) intervene with environmental crises in an authoritarian context, drawing on the data from ten-month ethnographic fieldwork in Beijing. To examine the organisations’ practices and real functioning, I analysed Chinese ENGOs’ behavioural patterns with a field theory approach, especially the branches of neo-institutionalism and Bourdieusian field theory. My thesis revealed different Chinese ENGOs’ creativities to bring diverse material and intellectual resources into the problem area, and their capacities to expand their space in China. Meanwhile, I also found that different ENGOs have narrowed the theme of environmental protection into fragmented ideals in their daily work. This fragmentation weakens the group’s potentials to provide serious and collective responses to the systematic crises. The discussions on ENGOs’ practices further invite us to rethink the concepts of NGOs, civil society, environmental protection and global civil society in different contexts. By reviewing the field history, I showed that the emergence and developments of Chinese ENGOs in the past three decades have been embedded in multiple overlapping historical processes in China. While there exist various institutional constraints, ENGOs have skilfully expanded their space, which suggests complex pluralising implications in China. Different organisations have converted the broad ideal of environmental protection into diverse manageable project designs, including small community activities, scientific investigations and struggles for social justice. Using the examples of their community activities and policy advocacies, I studied ENGOs’ daily practices and stressed their practical logics, which are not reducible to their original ideals or the external constraints. Another focus of my work is the intra-field dynamics. I especially discussed how different actors compete to gain more capital and collectively create the field rules. While there exist diversities in the field, there are also fierce power struggles. The field is currently witnessing the increasingly dominant technocratic trends, the diminishment of pluralism values, the loss of connections with political and contentious discourses, and the resistances to the bureaucratisation trends. In this thesis, I presented the field’s growths, diversities, fragmentation and polarisation. Over the years, there have been growing quantities of ENGOs, increasing funding pools, and specialised management standards in this circle. It is worthwhile to discuss to what extent ENGOs can organise different sectors together and respond to environmental issues effectively.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Rong A
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: McQuarrie, Michael and Krause, Monika

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