Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Atmosphere of an Ecological Civilization: A Study of Ideology, Perception and Action in Chengdu, China
by Schmitt, Edwin A., Ph.D., The Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong), 2016, 422; 10663739
Abstract (Summary)

In recent years, as the Chinese people have had to face environmental issues in their everyday lives, environmental protection has come to stimulate new social movements and forms of governance in China. After decades of state emphasis on economic growth, it has yet to be made clear how this new concern for environmental governance resonates with different segments of Chinese society. Thus, this thesis analyzes the rise of environmental consciousness among different social groups in the Western Chinese city of Chengdu.

Environmental consciousness is examined according to three components: ideology, perception and action. At the turn of the millennium, the Chinese state started to promote Ecological Civilization, the CCP's ideological answer to Sustainable Development. With a singular emphasis on enforcing environmental protection as long as it does not interfere with economic development, this uni-dimensional structure of Ecological Civilization has been introduced to Chinese society through local government and NGO projects, as well as academic and media reports. By ethnographically exploring the issues of mobility, consumerism, food safety and urbanization within the daily lives of Chengdu residents, the thesis examines how this uni-dimensional aspect of Ecological Civilization resonates with the way urban residents contribute to "greying" or "greening" Chengdu. Residents engage in the "greying" of Chengdu because such actions help them maintain or accumulate greater amounts of social capital. Aspects of "greening" Chengdu are related to a grassroots environmental ideology, described here as "being environmentally-friendly", which is paradoxically thought of as being both old-fashioned and high-class.

A social survey of 245 households shows upper class residents perceiving the environment as having a higher impact on their life than lower class residents. The environmental actions of garbage separation, water conservation and air pollution mitigation are variably related to a resident's social class, age and place of residence. While our survey also determines that residents' interpretation of Ecological Civilization has multiple dimensions, there are three distinct groups that emerge from an examination of the intersection of environmental ideology, perception and action in China. This includes, the Developmental Group, who benefit from the state promoted uni-dimensional interpretation of Ecological Civilization, the Environmental Group, who are more heavily influenced by the "being environmentally-friendly" ideology, and the Apathetic Group, who struggle with environmental actions as both old-fashioned and high-class practices. Being made up primarily of residents from the Developmental Group, the state is strengthened by the uni-dimensional structure of Ecological Civilization because it makes the Apathetic Group desire for a more authoritarian government that will simply take care of environmental problems for them. However, the inability of the state to engage with the local interpretation of Ecological Civilization along multiple dimensions will only drive more residents towards a more antagonistic stance shared by the Environmental Group, placing the state within a paradox it is unable to resolve.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bosco, Joseph
Commitee: Anderson, Eugene, Cheung, Sidney, Steinhardt, Christoph
School: The Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
Department: Anthropology
School Location: Hong Kong
Source: DAI-A 79/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Asian Studies, Environmental Studies
Keywords: Discourse analysis, Energy, Environmental consciousness, Sichuan, Social class, Urbanization
Publication Number: 10663739
ISBN: 978-0-355-30424-4
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