Evolving Forms of Environmentalism in Contemporary China: Making “Scientific-Environmental Citizens” through Citizen Science
Lecture by Anna Lora-Wainwright, Professor of the Human Geography of China at the University of Oxford.
Professor Lora-Wainwright trained in anthropology and Chinese studies at SOAS and at the University of Oxford and has a longstanding interest in health, development and the environment in rural China. Her previous research has concerned experiences of cancer and contending forms of morality, environmental activism, waste recycling and experiences of land loss and urbanization in China. She recently began collaborative research on Chinese communities in the UK and the forms of solidarity and care which emerged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Lora-Wainwright has also expanded her interests in environmental justice beyond China, and in 2021 began undertaking collaborative work on toxicity and activism in Italy.
This presentation advocates for a closer and less universalizing focus on the forms of citizenship nurtured by Citizen Science (CS). It suggests that evaluations of CS on the basis of the level of citizens’ participation risk glossing over complexities and taking particular citizenship arrangements, which do not exist everywhere, as a precondition for the production of a more democratic and participatory form of science. Based on an examination of the experiences of students participating in the CS activities of a Chinese environmental NGO, it illustrates the “transformative potentials” of CS to foster particular forms of environmental citizenship. It argues that such transformative potentials may be revealed by paying closer attention to 1) the experiences, perspectives and skills acquired by participants; and 2) the specific context in which initiatives are situated. This attention to citizenship as an outcome of CS is particularly valuable in political contexts where democratic participation is not a viable option. But the focus on the experience of participants and the context of CS activities which is required for understanding emergent forms of citizenship is equally important for gaining a more nuanced understanding of citizenship as it is enacted through CS in democratic contexts.