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Industrial Pollution and Environmental Health in Rural China: Risk, Uncertainty and Individualization*

  • Bryan Tilt (a1)


After more than three decades of extremely rapid industrial growth, China faces an environmental public health crisis. In this article, I examine pollution in the rural industrial sector and its implications for community health. Drawing on recent ethnographic research in an industrial township in rural Sichuan, including interviews with government officials, environmental regulators, industrial workers and local residents, I explore how community members understand the linkages between air and water pollution from nearby factories and their health and well-being. The article has two main goals. The first is to examine the various ways in which uncertainty about pollution sources, about the severity of pollution levels and about the links between pollution and human health shapes villagers' experiences of pollution on a day-to-day basis. The second goal is to examine the rising trend of “individualization” taking place in China today and explore how this process is related to people's experiences of toxic exposure. I consider the implications of this trend for how social scientists should approach the study of environmental illness in contemporary China.



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Funding for this research project was provided by the US National Science Foundation's Cultural Anthropology Division (Grant #0210178). I would also like to thank the participants of the symposium entitled “Choking on what? Contested illnesses, pollution and the making of environmental health subjects in contemporary China,” which was held at the University of Oxford in March 2011 with financial support from the Contemporary China Studies Programme.



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Industrial Pollution and Environmental Health in Rural China: Risk, Uncertainty and Individualization*

  • Bryan Tilt (a1)


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