Villager responses to drought: An ethnographic study in southwest China

Event details

PSC Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 17 October 2017


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Aisi Shang


Helen McMartin

This thesis explores the social underpinnings of disasters associated with natural hazards. In existing disaster studies, it is common to classify people into different vulnerable groups and examine the vulnerabilities that limit them. Rather than take this approach, which I argue reinforces stereotyped images of vulnerable people as weak and passive, this thesis examines people’s experiences of and responses to a drought in Yunnan Province, southwest China. Building on existing literature, my ethnographic fieldwork and a broad understanding of Chinese society, I have developed a multi-layered framework, emphasizing the interactions between social institutions and relations at different levels of society. I argue that villagers exercise agency, and actively manage the challenges of drought in their daily life. However, their choices are made within the confines of institutional constraints. Different social institutions and relations intersect and interact with each other to shape variations in people’s experiences of and responses to drought. At the community level, the existence of village infrastructure and the help of external agencies are key. Obtaining funds for infrastructure construction and drought relief largely depends on personal connections between the village communities and external agencies. At the household level, patterns of social inequalities, in particular the inequalities between ordinary households and those of village cadres, combines with the life course of households to shape experiences of and responses to drought. Within the household, gender intersects with individuals’ life courses to shape people’s experiences of drought and their responses to it.

About the Speaker
Aisi Shang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political and Social Change.

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