Dr Andrea Pia

Dr Andrea Pia

Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology

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Key Expertise

About me

Andrea Pia is a legal and environmental anthropologist whose research sits at the interface between environmental humanities, decolonial political theory, and the critical study of the commons. 

Andrea’s regional focus over the last fifteen 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? 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 on the outskirts 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. Outputs of this first piece of research explore 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 Cutting the Mass Line: Water, Politics, and Climate in Southwest China, aims at rethinking social scientific approaches to collective action by exploring China’s compounding water crises from the vantage point of Huize County, a water-challenged, 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 brought about by their unwilling enrolment in the global quest for environmental sustainability. Publications from this project span from exploring the pragmatism and conflictual ethics of street-level water bureaucrats to elucidating counter-theories of property relations and the commons in rural China. Dispute mediation and grassroots collective actions have been the subject of several other publications, with a focus on the jurisprudence of conflict management in an authoritarian context.    

In 2017, Andrea began a new ethnographic and oral history project entitled Justice After Carbon. This comparative ethnographic project explores the emerging political antagonism (as well as ideological convergence) between indigenous movements, global civil society practitioners, western climate justice activists, and the Chinese energy industry as it moves to sustainably redesign energy production in and for the Global South. A multi-sited project, Justice after Carbon explores climate politics from the vantage point of compromised subjectivities: energy experts, activists, engineers and lawyers whose racialised and classed positionality inevitably shape the form and direction of their political agency in the climate crisis. Among the various activities organised as part of this research, Andrea recently put together an international symposium on the hydropower development of the Mekong River in collaboration with LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre. Two other co-authored research workshops, one on Degrowth and one on Global China have also provided material for this ongoing investigation. 

Andrea is deeply interested in public anthropology and the advocacy of open-access scholarship. In 2019, he organised an international workshop on Open Access, Academic Integrity and Academic Freedom and designed a new teaching module on Public Anthropology. He commissioned and edited the Association for Social Anthropologists of the UK’s 2023 report on the State of Anthropology in the UK

Andrea is one of the founders of the Global China Lab, a non-profit organisation established by researchers and practitioners to advance knowledge of contemporary China. He is one of the 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. He is also one of the founding members of the scholar-led editorial cooperative C40 and a contributor to the crowd-sourced digital tool The People’s Map of Global China. In 2016-2018, and again in 2022 with the support of the LSE Eden Centre and King’s College London, Andrea developed The Long Day of Young Peng, a bespoke point-and-click interactive digital ethnography that follows the day of a young Chinese migrant from his native village to Beijing. The Peng game was shortlisted for a prestigious 2023 QS Reimagine Education Award. 

Since 2013, Andrea has taught courses in Political and Legal Anthropology, Anthropology and Human Rights, Culture and Globalisation, China in Comparative Perspective, Ethnography through Mixed Media, Public Anthropology and History of Anthropological Theory.

Expertise Details

Water; Law; China; Environment; Climate; Justice; Collective Action; Resistance; Sustainability; Bureaucracy; Energy; Mekong region

Selected publications


2024. Cutting the Mass Line: Water, Politics and Climate in Southwest China. Johns Hopkins University Press.

2014. Storia della Antropologia Cinese [Italian Translation of Hu et al. 2008. 中国人类学是],Pia A. E. (Ed), SEID Edizioni, Firenze.


2023. Bull in a China Shop. Per un approccio multispecie alla frantumazione del sapere socio-scientifico sulla Cina e una sua ricomposizione. OrizzonteCina 14(1): 57-70.

2023. Ghosts in the Shell: The Promises of Water Users’ Associations and the Double Life of Elinor Ostrom’s Design Principles in Rural China. Journal of Political Ecology 30(1): 62–83.

2022. Commento a ‘Bronislaw Malinowski, l’antropologia pratica, la politica, e il colonialismo’ di Antonino Colajanni. ANUAC 11(2): 76-77.

2020. ‘Jurisprudential Massage’: legal fictions, radical citizenship and the epistemics of dissent in post-socialist China. Cultural Anthropology 35(4): 487-515.

2020. Di che Cosa Parliamo Quando Parliamo di Beni Comuni? Ripopolare l’immaginario politico-ecologico attraverso l’esperienza Cinese, Sulla Via del Catai 19:121-38.

2019. We Want Everything! A commentary to Pun Ngai’s The New Chinese Working Class in Struggle, Dialectical Anthropology 44: 331-335.

2019. On Digital Ethnography: Anthropology, Politics and Pedagogy (Part I and II). ALLEGRA Lab.

2017. A Water Commons in China?, Made in China Journal 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.

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. On Chinese Pedagogical Legalism (and Its Anthropological Ghost). ALLEGRA Lab.

2015. Disavowing the Law and Engaging Politics in Rural China, Anthropology News 56 (4): 42-43.

2012. On a Ridge Between Fields: unpacking property in land in Qing China, La Ricerca Folklorica 64: 141-156. 

Book Chapters

2021. Digitised Ethnography, in Barron, A., Browne, A.L., Ehgartner, U., Hall, S.M., Pottinger, L. and Ritson, J. (eds.) Methods for Change: Impactful social science methodologies for 21st-century problems. Manchester: Aspect and The University of Manchester.

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. 101-120, Bloomsbury Publishing: London.

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. 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.

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

2022. Prometheus in China. Made in China Journal 7 (2): 87-160.

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

2017. Introducing the Chinese Commons. Made in China Journal 2 (2): 28-29.

2016. Living Fictions. ALLEGRA Lab. 

Book Reviews and Conversations

2023. On the Edge: A Conversation with Margaret Hillenbrand. Made in China Journal.

2021. Beijing from Below: A Conversation with Harriet Evans. Made in China Journal (read the Chinese version).

2020. Asian Reservoirs: A Conversation with Frédéric Keck. Made in China Journal.

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

2018. Resigned Activism: A Conversation with Anna-Lora-Wainwright. Made in China Journal.

Creative Work

2023 [2016]. The Long Day of Young Peng: An Interactive Digital Ethnography. [shortlisted for the Immersive Experiential Learning Award at the 2023 QS Reimagine Education Awards & Conference]

2021. Digitised Ethnography.

Open Access Advocacy

2024. Against Book Enclosure: moving towards more diverse, humane, and accessible book publishingArea 00: 1-8.

2023. Setting Knowledge Free: Towards an Ethical Open Access. Made in China Journal (read the Italian version).

2023. The Lack of Resources for Ethical Open Access Journals Hurts Academia and the Public. Universitetsläraren.

2022. Food sovereignty as a model for scholar-led open-access publishing. LSE Impact Blog.

2022. After the Labour of Love: the incomplete revolution of open access and open science in the humanities and creative social sciences. The Commonplace.

2020. ‘Labour of Love’: An Open Access Manifesto for Freedom, Integrity, and Creativity in the Humanities and Interpretive Social Sciences. The Commonplace (read the Italian and Spanish versions).

Public Engagement

2023. Chinese Water Worlds: Hydropower, Green Authoritarianism, and the Energy Transition in SEA. Energy Anthropology Network.

2023. Restructuring the ASA: Findings on the Condition of UK Anthropology 2023. The ASA.

2023. Anthropology and Degrowth: where to next? Undisciplined Environment.

2023. Justice After Carbon: Is there a place for justice in China-led hydropower transition? LSE Southeast Asia Blog.

2022. Il Paese Bello, Sporcato dallo Sviluppismo. Il Manifesto.

2022. War in Ukraine: An Interview with Taras Fedirko. ASAonline (read the Chinese version).

2022. Auto Interview with the ASA Media and Publicity Officer. The ASA.

2021. Cambiamento Climatico con Caratteristiche Cinesi. Il Cielo Sopra Pechino.

2021. Harmony as Paternalism: Dispute Mediation in Xi Jinping’s China. The China Story Blog.

2021. Public Anthropology: A Reading List. Network for Contemporary Anthropological Theory.

2018. As ‘Techno-Politics’ Holds Sway, Is a Water Commons Possible in China? LSE Business Review.

2017. The Chinese Panacea? A Response to the Undersecretary of Economic Development of the New Italian Government. Chinoiresie (read the Italian version).

2015. La Malattia del Cinismo: Una Conversazione con Hans Steinmüller. Cinaforum.