Dr Andrea Pia

Dr Andrea Pia

Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology

Room No
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 crisis 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 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 authoritarian contexts.   

In 2017, Andrea began a new ethnographic project provisionally entitled Justice After Carbon. 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 revitalising the anthropology of expertise in the age of environmental breakdown by looking at the conceptual nexus between justice, class and ethnicity, and the disjunctive environmental politics their interpolation generates. Andrea is organising an international symposium around these themes in collaboration with LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre. 

Andrea is deeply interested in public anthropology and in 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 interactive digital ethnography that follows the day of a young Chinese migrant from his native village to Beijing. In 2019, Andrea organised an international workshop on Open Access, Academic Integrity and Academic Freedom 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


[forthcoming] Cutting the Mass Line: Moving Water and the Political in Rural China. Johns Hopkins University Press.

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


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.

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): 42-3.

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

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

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.

Creative Work

2021. Digitised Ethnography.

2016. The Long Day of Young Peng: An interactive Digital Ethnography.

Public Engagement

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

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

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.

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).

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

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

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.