Volunteering for the environment in China: The urban as a terrain of problematization

Lisa M. Hoffman


This contribution argues that Aihwa Ong’s approach to the urban as problem-space is a powerful and underutilized conceptual tool for studying contemporary urban worlds. Drawing on fieldwork with an environmental nongovernmental organization in Dalian, China, it suggests that environmental volunteering signaled important shifts in the specification of citizen-subjects and in what counted as effective urban governance. Making sense of such urban assemblages required flexible methodological tools, and Ong’s approach of the urban as a terrain of problematization offers this. This conceptual and methodological move facilitates a middle-range theoretical approach that accounts for patterns and emergent paradigms while allowing for contingency, not forcing complex assemblages into singular or universal explanations. It is this kind of anthropology and ethnographic analysis that enables better understandings of our contemporary (global) urban worlds.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/712097