Peter K. New Award Winner, 2004
When I began my graduate studies in anthropology at the University of Washington, I did so with the belief that social science should be engaged with real-world problems, and this belief has guided the course of my studies. Because I had lived for several years in South Korea and had a moderate grasp of the Korean language, my intention was to do fieldwork there. But after developing, in my first year, a keen interest in industrialization as a force of social, economic and environmental change, I realized that China would be a more appropriate field site, for several reasons. First, the scale of industrialization is unprecedented. China has transformed itself from an overwhelmingly agrarian nation into an industrial giant--all within the last two decades and with a population of more than 1.2 billion people. And second, the pace of this transformation has meant that the bureaucratic and legal framework for environmental protection and enforcement is lacking. This means that individuals and communities are often forced to cope with dangerous levels of industrial pollution, an unplanned public health experiment with an unknown outcome.
I chose Futian Township in China’s mountainous Sichuan province as my study site partly because, as a poor and under-developed region its reliance on local factories is so acute, and partly out of bureaucratic necessity. As a foreign researcher delving into a sensitive topic like pollution and health, collaboration with Chinese colleagues was a must. The University of Washington has long-standing ties with Sichuan University, and these ties proved invaluable as a way of gaining access to the research site and as a means of cooperating with exceedingly competent Chinese scholars. The study site proved fortuitous for me, since its high, arid mountain landscape reminded me daily of my home in Utah. My wife, Jenna, who participated actively in the fieldwork for this project and who now speaks Chinese with a decidedly Sichuanese accent, concurs. In keeping with my belief that anthropologists should be engaged with real-world problems, I am currently discussing, with colleagues at Sichuan University, the possibility of helping rural factories in Futian invest in environmental mitigation technologies to safe-guard the environment and promote community development.
In addition to my academic work, I have been working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle for the past two years, collaborating with other anthropologists on a project to assess how Alaskan communities use and manage fishery resources. This experience has broadened my horizons tremendously and has underscored the need for more community-focused research in government agencies.
I earned my Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology from the University of Washington in August 2004, with a dissertation entitled “Risk, Pollution and Sustainability in Rural Sichuan, China.” In September 2005, I will begin a new job as Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department at Oregon State University. I am looking forward to packing up the family--which includes my wife Jenna, my seven month-old son Avery, and dog Alta\--and exploring the wilds of Oregon.
Peter K. New Award Second Place Winner, 2004
Jennifer Erickson is a PhD student and graduate teaching fellow at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. She has worked in Bosnia-Herzegovina and as a case manager with refugees in the U.S. She received her M.A. in Anthropology at the University of Oregon. Ms. Erickson is interested in the anthropology of violence and war, race/class/gender, and refugees in the U.S., the former Yugoslavia, and Sudan.
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