Airborne: Pollution, Climate Change, and New Visions of Sustainability in China


This project takes “air” (空气 kongqi) as its focal point of departure. It 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. Airborne attempts to answer the questions of how, and to which extent, Communist authorities, scientists, rural/urban inhabitants, and environmental organizations interact in responding to the inseparable risks of air pollution in China and global climate change. We study this through three carefully designed interdisciplinary case studies that all require new forms of cooperation across the disciplines of sinology, anthropology, media science, political science, and environmental chemistry:

Case 1: The Interface between Air Pollution Science and People
Case 2: Central PM Pollution Policy Goes Local
Case 3: The Class and Gender of Individual Air Pollution Exposure

In sum, these cases will produce empirical knowledge of China’s path towards sustainability by highlighting the deep conflicts of interests that are vested in this endeavor. Theoretically this will generate new understandings of both the limits and possibilities of human creativity in the face of global environmental risks as experienced within a politically authoritarian state with undisputed importance for global climate change.


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