Dr Andrea Pia

Dr Andrea Pia

Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology

+44(0)20 7955 7614
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OLD 6.09
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English, Italian, Mandarin
Key Expertise

About me

Andrea Pia is a legal and environmental anthropologist working 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? 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. 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 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. Publications from this project spans 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 a number of other publications, with a focus on the jurisprudence of conflict management in an authoritarian context.    

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 the Chinese state water industry as it moves to redesign the increasingly endangered flow of the Mekong River. This project aims at retheorising the conceptual nexus between ethnicity, class and place with a view of analysing the imminent politics of wet environments in a warming, de-ruralising and decarbonising world. 

Andrea is deeply interested in public anthropology and the advocacy of open access scholarship. 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. In 2019, Andrea has organised an international workshop on OA and Academic Freedom at the LSE and designed a new teaching module on Public Anthropology. He 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, Anthropology, Film and Text and Public Anthropology.

Expertise Details

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

Selected publications


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

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

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. 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.

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

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.) ‘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.