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July 2, 2024
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v2.1 Reference

Cutting the Mass Line

Water, Politics, and Climate in Southwest China

Explores the growing water supply crisis through an ethnographic study of a rural minority community in China threatened by climate change.

China is experiencing climate whiplash—extreme fluctuations between drought and flooding—that threatens the health and autonomy of millions of people. Set against mounting anxiety over the future of global water supplies, Cutting the Mass Line explores the enduring political, technical, and ethical project of making water available to human communities and ecosystems in a time of drought, infrastructural disrepair, and environmental breakdown.

Anthropologist Andrea E. Pia explores essential questions of how to manage water resources from the vantage point of Huize County, a water-challenged, ecologically damaged, multi-ethnic area in rural Yunnan Province. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, archival materials, and statistical data, Pia brings readers inside the inner workings of China's complex water supply ecosystem by exploring the intricate relationships among Chinese water services agencies; water user associations; dam construction sites; party cadres and rural entrepreneurs, mediators, and farmers; and foreign development planners.

The climate crisis and the global politics of sustainability and mitigation offer unanticipated leeway for experimental grassroots intrusions in what has traditionally been the sphere of elite regulatory action: water allocation and distribution. Rural residents' efforts to keep access to local water sources and flourish in their own communities are moving the political possibilities of climate and environmental collective action in exciting and unforeseen directions. As the world grapples with challenges to water quality, supply, and control, the impacts of China's resource management strategies will be a provocative and useful study for the future.

About the Author

Andrea E. Pia (LONDON, UK) is an assistant professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of The Long Day of Young Peng and a coeditor of the journal Made in China.


"Tracing the emergence of political subjectivities among rural communities in China, Pia shows that water governance is never simply about the natural resource but rather is produced by an assemblage of technopolitical ecologies, imaginaries, and forms of self-organization that fuel the struggle for sustainability, collectivity, and justice. An original, sophisticated, and well-researched book."

- Shih-Diing Liu, author of The Politics of People: Protest Cultures in China and co-author of Affective Spaces

"Pia's brilliant ethnography demonstrates that China's water-stressed rural communities and their bureaucrats, living with the violence of market sustainability's technofixes, are also sites of prefigurative politics. Cutting the Mass Line is at once deeply grounded and a tour de force through its questions of justice, redistribution, and commoning, offering a searing critique of sustainability's exclusionary temporality."

- Emily Yeh, University of Colorado Boulder

"This scholarly, conceptually compelling, and often delightfully written ethnography of the complex relationships and politico-ethical struggles oriented to promote—and sometimes hinder—different modalities of collective living, enjoyment, and plenitude gives us an inspiring example of what collaborative, caring, and long-term fieldwork can offer: to anthropology, to China studies, and to the imaginations of radical environmental activism across the globe."

- Harriet Evans, University of Westminster/LSE, author of Beijing from Below: Stories of Marginal Lives in the Capital's Center

"Cutting the Mass Line ingeniously conceptualizes water politics as turbulence, infiltration, and diversion. It dwells in collective action at the margins and shows how tenacity and trickiness are what enable life within adversity. This beautiful book gifts us an idea of subversive political practice that might be exactly what we need for the urgency of the now."

- Andrea Ballestero, author of A Future History of Water

"A rich, kaleidoscopic ethnography of creative, playful, and shrewd practices of rural commoning to reproduce bodies and ecosystems, bend hierarchies, and live with dignity despite agribusiness and Chinese capitalist water extractivism. Reveals a pulsing social life of care and struggle in the everyday life of subjects and communities who cannot be reduced to victims. Refreshing and eye opening!"

- Massimo De Angelis, University of East London, author of Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism

9781421448848 : cutting-the-mass-line-pia
Paperback / softback
July 2, 2024
$49.95 USD

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