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READING
Here's a state of things
How did it get this way?
Local Communities
Dev Rev Modernity
Environmental Problems


WRITING
How did it get this way?
Local Communities
Dev Rev Modernity
Environmental Problems

Essay Assignments for Unit 4 Development, Revolution, Modernity


Due electronically to the instructor at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, February 24

Write on one of the following topics:

A) Much of the field of environmental history has been based on the premise that environmental degradation in recent centuries stems from the profit motive in capitalism, which compels resource extractors and manufacturers to carry out their activities in the most profitable way, and thus requires them to cut costs wherever possible, making it impossible to guard resources or the environment. Examples are legion.

Judith Shapiro's Mao's War Against Nature challenges this view, showing how state socialism in the 20th century was just as destructive to the environment as was capitalism, though perhaps in different ways. You should consider the question of whether socialist environment-trashing and capitalist environment-trashing are identical results of high modernism, or if they are inevitable results of industry under any kind of ideology or political system, or if they each have their own unique characteristics dictated by the political and economic features of their respective systems. In doing so, it would probably help greatly to refer to James Scott's ideas (1998) about high modernism.

B) James Scott states, on pages 94-95 of Seeing Like a State, that "This belief that it was man's destiny to tame nature to suit his interests and preserve his safety is perhaps the keystone of high modernism." Using examples covered in this course (readings, lectures, slides, etc), and if you want adding other examples you know about, consider

  • Whether or not this "keystone" in itself is sufficient to explain any of the environmental problems caused directly or indirectly by revolutionist or developmentalist policies of the PRC state since 1949, without referring to specifically socialist or Marxist beliefs, or to turn the question around, how much of the problem lay with socialism
  • Whether the Chinese state's recent attention to environmental protection and environmental cleanup in policy and practice indicates a move away from high modernism and toward some sort of post-High modernism or even post-modernism

C) On pages 129-30 of Discovering Nature, Robert Weller quotes Chinese environmentalist Liang Congjie as saying "China's biggest problem...was the environmental ignorance of he peasantry, and thus it was crucial to offer educational programs."

This view is extremely common among Chinese intellectuals: the peasants are ignorant, backward, and superstitious, and it is the duty of the state and the intellectuals to educate them. Are the intellectuals missing something here, at least when the topic is the environment? What, exactly, are the peasants ignorant of? Is it possible that the intellectuals might learn something useful from the peasants (or the pastoralists or the upland farmers) as well?

Essays should be between 1500 and 2000 words in length, not counting bibliographic references. You may use any style (footnotes, endnotes, or embedded author and date) for references, as long as it is clear where you have gotten your information. Quotations should always be referenced, as should any information that is taken explicitly from a given source.