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Practices of Ecological Citizenship: Global Dreams for a Chinese Village


In a small rural village in the mountains of Northeastern China, a transnational assemblage is building an internationally lauded eco-city. Examining the global dreams for a green "sustainable community" in Huangbaiyu Village opens up a window on to the science of global warming and the ecological rationality to which it gives rise. Taking the site of Huangbaiyu not as a bounded physical location, but a nodal point through which multiple logics, values, and persons converge, I ask: What type of self and society do the structures of the eco-city shape through its spaces of inhabitance and systems of survival?

The construction of an eco-city is itself more than a built environment; it is a physical manifestation of a system of values and a record of power. In the name of a shared community of fate, new assemblages of authority and practices of governance are emerging. As scientific models ground political discourse, the name through which authority to act upon a population is invoked is no longer only the state, but also the planet, in which every person has a vested interest and for which every person is responsible. Under these terms, everyday practices of living become subject to judgment, transformation and discipline by persons never met in the name of protecting the planet.

In China, the uncertainties of global climate change align with national anxieties over the "three rural problems": agriculture, farmers, and the countryside. In the name of sustainable development, the villagers of Huangbaiyu are again becoming the object of alien ends. This time it is market consolidation, not Communist collectivization that is re-ordering value in the countryside. In the name of protecting a "planet in peril," the villagers of Huangbaiyu would be dispossessed of their access to the natural resources of their valleys. In the name of improving their quality of life, they would be forced into either wage labor or abject poverty.

What is at stake in Huangbaiyu is not only of consequence to the persons who have inhabited its spaces, but to all those who are encountering the ethical claims operationalized by ecological citizenship, or are thinking of making such claims on others. Unless attention is focused on what - and who - a new hierarchy of ecological value devalues, an ecological age may prove to be little different from the present industrial age.

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