Healing Nature: Green Living and the Politics of Hope in Hong Kong
I began my PhD project with a set of seemingly simple questions: What makes people come to care about the environment? What makes someone decide to ‘go green’? How might anthropology shed light on the increasingly popular yet understudied phenomenon of sustainable living? My doctoral research hopes to answer these questions through an ethnography of sustainable living in Hong Kong.
In tracing the development of environmental awareness among the Hong Kong Chinese, my thesis examines the emergence of “green living” as it develops in a society that is influenced by both Chinese heritage and British colonial legacy. I argue that the green living movement in Hong Kong is not just a conventional environmental movement that strives to heal nature. On the contrary, people actually feel that they are being healed by nature through the practice of green living. As people start to contemplate the ramifications of today’s ecological crisis, they are also prompted to reflect on their relationships with nature, society, and the state.
Drawing on Foucault’s “technologies of the self”, my thesis illuminates the interconnection between self-transformation and social transformation. It highlights the importance of bodily practices and emotional experience in the making of environmental and activist subjectivities and challenges the binary of self-interest and altruism that characterizes so many contemporary environmental discourses.
Politically, I argue that “green living” enables ordinary Hongkongers to circumvent realpolitik by giving them an opportunity to engage in the “political economy of hope” (Rose & Novas 2005). Instead of lobbying with the government, the green living practitioners in Hong Kong mobilise various technologies of the self in their everyday life to resist the “politics of endangerment” (Choy 2013) that has been shadowing Hong Kong since it became a Special Administrative Region of China in 1997. While contentious politics is crucial to progressive social changes, this thesis suggests that actions that are embedded in non-activists’ everyday life are equally important because they not only bring about changes in practices, but also a gradual and lasting shift in identities, values, and aesthetics.
Land-grabbing in New Territories, photographed during fieldwork in Hong Kong, 2013.