I am a graduate student in cultural anthropology in UW-Madison. I am broadly interest in religion and ecology, and specifically in how plastic garbage shapes the sacred mountain landscape and vice versa. My geographic focus for dissertation research is in Tibetan alpine villages in Deqen, Yunnan, SW China. I hope to explore the Tibetan villagers' everyday struggle for tourist development and for ethnic and religious identity, in the context of state-promoted ethnic tourism and the rebuilding of Tibetan Buddhist temples. The project involves ordinary villagers, backpacker tourists (majority being Han Chinese and Israelis, Japanese, Americans, Australians and European tourists), local tourist companies, local officials and NGOs. Through this study I want to understand how people live with garbage through their particular lens of cultural notion of "pollution," a subject that has been heavily explored by anthropologists.
In the future, I want to explore how materials as a form of being that has agency conditions our bodies, spiritualities, and beyond as well as everyday struggle for a better life. As Gay Hawkins (2005, The Ethics of Waste) shows us, plastic bottles and many others, may have the potential to generate values besides their negativity that is often associated with. What if we adopt Hawkins' dialectic analysis on waste materials? How would it change our perception of waste? This has to be seen in a globalization context and a health-, ecology-, and governance- entangled and inflected context. It also must be in the context of China and the world. It is because as the world factory, China is also the destination for world dump. Through hazardous "scavenger dive" in the garbage piles in the open land, those recyclables participate in production and eventually go to the global market and appear in material forms on the shelves of supermarkets,-- a global production and consumption chain that links many regimes of values (Appadurai 1991; Mintz 1985). How does this circuit shape the ethics of waste?
In addition, with the rise of the waste-to-energy technology in Europe and America and many other places, new competition appear in the domain of harmless garbage import. Again, how this new technology redefines the boundaries of ethics, of human and waste, and of production and consumption, will be my future project as well.