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  • 2019martindalephd

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Tasting the cosmological rift: alternative food networks in China’s ecological civilization

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2019
Number of pages254
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The current literature on Alternative Food Networks (AFNs) is split between two camps regarding their potential to transform the food system: the ‘progressives’ and the ‘radicals’, or ‘optimists’ and ‘pessimists’. Likewise, China’s concept of Ecological Civilization has prompted a polarised debate, with scholars arguing Ecological Civilization is either an authentic ecological ethos or a form of greenwashing. Exploring AFNs in China, this PhD suggest that these differing camps regarding AFNs overlap more than previously supposed and that the current debate regarding Ecological Civilization is the wrong debate to be having. By intertwining AFNs and Ecological Civilization, this thesis argues that the pragmatic approach Chinese AFN actors adopt in response to three core tensions of AFNs, reveals how radical change does not necessarily require a radical form of politics. It is this pragmatic approach that allows China to begin navigating the emerging cosmological rift of our times, namely that between human development (i.e. global capitalism) and the immovable ecological limits of this development.
Based on qualitative fieldwork of Chinese AFNs (Guangdong), this thesis suggests that Ecological Civilization, as a pragmatic approach, can be characterised in three different ways. First, through the expectations participants have of the material (sensory and aesthetic) qualities of an Ecological Civilization. Second, through Chinese middle class subjectivities, which are both pragmatic and idealistic in form. Third, through forms of (rural) cosmopolitanism, which suggest that Ecological Civilization has the capacity to ‘ruralise’ global capitalism as a distinctive Chinese form of ‘cosmopolitanization’. Together, these three insights indicate that AFNs have a transformative potential despite their internal tensions, and that Ecological Civilization is a productive and mobilising concept, not just an ambiguous slogan of an authoritarian government.