Infrastructures of Waste and Infrastructure as Waste in Urban China

Authors: Adam Liebman*,
Topics: China, Environment, Urban Geography
Keywords: waste, scrap, infrastructure, China
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 46
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Kunming, capital city of Yunnan Province, is one of many burgeoning Chinese cities said to be “besieged by garbage.” Beyond growing mass consumption and mass waste, decades of rapid development and shoddy construction have led to infrastructure marked with a high metabolism, i.e., large material inputs, short lifespans dependent on frequent repairs, and large quantities of material left over. While all this waste poses environmental challenges, the high metabolic pace also provides the grounds for economies of maintenance, repair, and, especially, trading scrap made from infrastructures demolished or otherwise unmoored and redirected for new uses. This paper draws on ethnographic research to consider the tensions between how infrastructure enables waste economies to thrive and how the same infrastructure easily becomes waste. Tracking these tensions, and the relations that are generated from them, can allow for a better understanding of the unique socio-material configurations and flows that constitute postsocialist Chinese cities.

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