Waste excess and access: structures conditioning migrant participation in informal recycling, by Adam Williams

Adam WilliamsAdam Williams is aPhD student in geography at Boulder University Colorado

My research investigates how rural migrants establish livelihoods and gain access to urban space in China, with a focus on informal recycling and trash collecting. Although recycling contributes value by removing waste from China’s cities and channeling materials back into commodity production, rural migrant recyclers are typically viewed as ‘uncivilized’ by urban residents. Thus, migrant recyclers are paradoxically objectified as both paragons of entrepreneurial virtue and unsanitary urban interlopers. Tensions arise as state entities seek to control flows of both urban waste and rural migrants within the city. Since access to urban space and waste is a crucial determinant for the success of migrant recyclers, my current project connects their shifting experiences and conceptions of mobility, citizenship and identity with the structures impacting their livelihoods. This project builds on the hypothesis that informal recycling’s creation of social and economic value represents a strategy of citizenship, while also revealing the contradictions underlying state and public visions of modern urban development in China.

Demands for migrant citizenship and urban access are contentious and potentially destabilizing issues for China. At the same time, amidst concern about its growing environmental problems, China has notably begun investing in green technology. The Chinese state seeks to counter growing criticism that rapid urban migration, urbanization, and the environmental degradation are all symptoms of the state’s inability to respond to undesirable outcomes of its reform policies and leadership. Meanwhile, China’s informal recycling sector maintains perhaps the highest reclamation percentage rate in the world. Directly, my research promotes cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research among China and US policy-makers and geographers by demonstrating benefits and values of informal recycling networks. I advocate recognition and support of the positive contributions to sustainable urban development made by marginalized groups like rural migrants.

 To know more: http://geography.colorado.edu/people/grad_student/williams_adam

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