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Resigned ActivismLiving with Pollution in Rural China$
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Anna Lora-Wainwright

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780262036320

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262036320.001.0001

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China’s “Cancer Villages”: The Social, Political, and Economic Contexts of Pollution

China’s “Cancer Villages”: The Social, Political, and Economic Contexts of Pollution

(p.33) 2 China’s “Cancer Villages”: The Social, Political, and Economic Contexts of Pollution
Resigned Activism

Anna Lora-Wainwright

The MIT Press

Chapter 2 examines the emergence of China’s “cancer villages”—village-sized clusters of high cancer incidence—and their significance. It overviews how media accounts discursively shaped their social, political and epistemological nature. It develops a typology of cancer villagers based on a close analysis of a selected number of cases examined in recent qualitative research (Chen et al 2013). These relatively high-profile, politically active cases provide a useful background against which to compare the less visibly active case studies examined in later chapters. They illustrate a broader range of activist practices, but they also show that such strategies are often ineffective. Ultimately, these examples suggest that “cancer villages” are not an epidemiologically uncontested label but rather a cultural, social, economic and political phenomenon. Further, they prove that scientific evidence is not the most important element in gaining redress. Rather, it is socio-economic contexts, the persistence of the local population’s complaints and their ability to threaten social stability which largely determines the ways in which polluting firms and the local government may respond. This point is further supported by the book’s three case studies, in which scientific evidence plays a relatively minor role in villagers’ reckonings about environmental health effects and in their demands for redress.

Keywords:   Cancer villages, Pollution, Collective action, Rural China, Scientific evidence, Cultural and social context, Political economy, Economic dependence

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