Accepted paper:

King coal and his dispossessed subjects: cooking, heating, and mining in China's deindustrializing economy

Author:

Charlotte Bruckermann (University of Bergen, Norway)

Paper short abstract:

As deindustrialization and financialization gain pace in China's coal-rich Shanxi Province, residents resist dispossession through three coal-dependent spheres of social reproduction: household cooking, domestic heating, and industrial mining.

Paper long abstract:

This paper compares industrial and post-industrial transformations underwriting the Chinese economy, as current state policy shifts from securing fossil fuels to concern over carbon emissions. State discourses in the People's Republic adhere to a dichotomy between public service and private interest, thereby obscuring the developmentalist agenda of perpetual growth to fill state and corporate coffers. In the post-Mao Era, this ideology of balancing public and private commitments has taken a specific form of clarifying property rights, sometimes shorthand for dispossession in the interest of the greater good of capital accumulation. Even recent efforts to create a low carbon economy have become subject to these renewed forms of dispossession, as the right to pollute became an object of market exchange and financial speculation, with an ensuing scramble to invest in renewable energy. This effort to wean, even jolt, the Chinese economy off of its coal dependency has prominently included trailblazing efforts by the state-dominated banking and corporate-led service sector. This paper interrogates the ensuing shift in livelihoods in China's 'coal province' of Shanxi, where rich veins of the black sediment form the carbon-based backbone of the local economy. As livelihoods in Shanxi buckle under the dual pressures of deindustrialization and financialization, residents resist dispossession through everyday practices of social reproduction in three overlapping, coal-dependent spheres: household cooking, domestic heating, and industrial mining. The paper argues that China's current low carbon transition distributes the spoils and costs of de-industrialization in highly uneven forms, not unlike the previous upheavals of accelerated industrialization.

panel P012
Ideologies of dispossession along the private/public conundrum [Anthropology of Economy Network]