Dr Andrea Pia

Dr Andrea Pia

Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology

+44 (0)20 7955 6306
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OLD 6.09
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English, Italian, Mandarin
Key Expertise

About me

Andrea is a legal and environmental anthropologist who works at the interface between political economy, development, and the critical study of the commons. 

Andrea’s regional focus over the last 15 years has been the People’s Republic of China. So far, his work has revolved around one set of interrelated questions: How do society and the natural environment affect and constitute one another? Along what lines are the benefits and burdens of human projects for the environment distributed? And according to what cultural, legal and ethical logics? What are the felicity conditions for counterprojects to emerge? 

Andrea’s first ethnographic research, which produced publications in Italian and material for a digital ethnography, was conducted in a cluster of Ming dynasty villages in the outskirt of Beijing. This research investigated man-made water shortages and the resulting patterns of environmentally induced migration among different age groups of rural residents. Its contribution was to connect migratory decisions to changing attitudes towards place, family and work and altered perceptions of environmental risk and workplace hazards. This first piece of research explored the material and symbolic process of progressive destitution of China’s historic rural communities and its connection to the country’s current environmental predicaments. 

Andrea’s second ethnographic project and book manuscript Cutting the Mass Line: Moving Water and the Political in Southwest China, aims at rethinking social scientific approaches to collective action by exploring China’s ongoing water crises from the vantage point of Huize County, a water-stressed, ecologically damaged, multi-ethnic area of rural Yunnan Province. This research follows Chinese hydro-engineers, street-level bureaucrats and embattled rural residents as they attend to and negotiate with the various raptures of the everyday that their haphazard enrolment in the global quest for water sustainability is materializing in rural China. Is water for everybody? What justify its artificial movement and storage? What moves people to cooperate or fight in the management of common waters? In what ways does water partake to projects of cohabitation and prosperity? The manuscript argues that the current reconfiguration of global water services provides unanticipated leeway for experimental grassroots intrusions in what has traditionally been the provenance of elite regulatory action. While intermittent, reversible and often antagonistic in nature, these politically and ethically motivated intrusions – the manyhanded and often venturesome efforts of Yunnanese dwellers to keep access to local water sources and continue flourishing in their own communities – are shown to redraw the shape of the Chinese social contract and to move the political possibilities of environmental collective action in unforeseen directions. 

In 2017, Andrea began a new ethnographic project provisionally entitled Pressurized Dreams: enclosing and disclosing water futures across China’s southwest border. This project explores the emerging antagonism between indigenous environmental politics and the infrastructural élan of China’s water industry as it moves to redesign the increasingly endangered flow of the Mekong River. The aim is to retheorise conceptual nexus of ethnicity, class and place as technologies of inhabitation that inscribe the natural environment with the conditions for their own reproduction and flourishing. This however, often at the expanses of other life-forms and projects. 

Andrea is deeply interested in public anthropology. He is one of the founders and co-editors of Made in China Journal, an open-access journal and online platform hosted by the Australian National University (ANU) and supported by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant. In 2016-2018 Andrea developed, with the support of an LSE IGNITE! Grant, The Long Day of Young Peng, a bespoke point-and-click video game that follows the day of a young Chinese migrant from his native village to Beijing. Based on a multiple-choice mechanics, the game is conceived as an immersive teaching tool that allows players to explore key themes in the study of contemporary China. Andrea is also an assiduous contributor to the anthropology website ALLEGRA Lab. 

Since 2013, Andrea has taught courses in Legal Anthropology, Anthropology and Human Rights, Culture and Globalisation, China in Comparative Perspective and Anthropology, Film and Tex.

Expertise Details

China; law; rural sociology; collective action; water; common-pool resources; political economy; environmental justice; prefigurative politics; infrastructure; digital ethnography.

Selected publications


2018. Memory Leaks: Local Histories of Cooperation as a Solution to Water-Related Cooperation Problems, in Stafford, C., Judd, E. and Eona Bell (eds.), Cooperation in Chinese Communities: Morality and Practice, pp.xx, Bloomsbury Publishing: London.

2017. A Water Commons in China?, Made in China: A Quarterly on Chinese Labour, Civil Society, and Rights 2 (2): 30-33.

2017. Back on the Water Margin: The Ethical Fixes of Sustainable Water Provisions in Rural China, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 23 (1): 120–136.

2017. Fighting for One's Life: The Making and Unmaking of Public Goods in the Yunnanese Countryside, in Brandtstädter, S. and Steinmüller, H. (eds.), Popular Politics and the Quest for Justice in Contemporary China, pp. 107-123. Routledge: London.

2016. “We Follow Reason not the Law”. Disavowing the law in rural China, PoLar: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 39(2): 276-293. [Winner of the 2014 APLA Graduate Students Prize Paper].

2016. Dieci anni, nove siccità. La costruzione sociale del rischio in un villaggio rurale cinese, in Ligi, G. (ed.), Percezioni di Rischio: Pratiche Sociali e Disastri Ambientali in Prospettiva Antropologica, pp. 75-106, CLEUP: Padova.

2015. Disavowing the Law and Engaging Politics in Rural China, Anthropology News 56 (4): 42-3.

2014. “L'acqua è la Linfa Vitale del Popolo”: associazionismo “dal basso” e gestione delle risorse idriche nella Cina rurale, in Ferro Nicoletta (ed.), Sostenibilità con Caratteristiche Cinesi: Evoluzione e Sfide del Percorso Cinese Verso un Modello Economico Sostenibile, Edizioni l’Asino d’Oro: Roma.

Edited Collections

2019. Writing Hypertext: Anthropology, Politics and Pedagogy. ALLEGRA Lab.

2017. Introducing the Chinese Commons, Made in China: A Quarterly on Chinese Labour, Civil Society, and Rights 2 (2): 28-29.

2016. Living Fictions. ALLEGRA Lab.


2014. Storia della Antropologia Cinese [Zhongguo Renleixue Shi],Pia A. E. (Ed), SEID Edizioni, Firenze.

Book Reviews

2018. A Review of Rojas, A. and R. Litzinger (eds.) 2016 ‘Ghost Protocol: Development and Displacement in Global China’. China Review International 23 (3): 293-97.

Other Articles

2018. Resigned Activism: A Conversation with Anna-Lora-Wainwright.