Button Menu

Liebman, Adam D., Ph.D.



Not shown

Sociology and Anthropology

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

I earned my Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology at the University of California, Davis and completed postdoctoral fellowships at Stanford and George Washington University. My research and teaching interests span environmental, political, economic, visual, public, and community-engaged anthropology; discard studies; the environmental humanities; critical theory; STS; and Chinese, Asian, and American studies. As a former junk artist, punk rock drummer, and science fair champion, I enjoy exploring creative, multimedia, and interdisciplinary approaches to research and teaching.

My work is driven by two mutually reinforcing goals: (1) reexamining existing analytics for theorizing agency and human embeddedness in the more-than-human world; and (2) addressing environmental and social justice challenges through critical scholarship, innovative pedagogy, and praxis that extends beyond academia. These goals are at the heart of my current book project, Uncontained: Scrap Worlds in and Beyond China. The book offers a political anthropology of structurally aligned discards uncontained by the political borders of China, including objects, bodies, and places. It does so through an ethnographic account centering the lives of informal waste workersa subset of the rural migrant population that faces political, economic, and cultural marginalization. Based on over two years of fieldwork in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, I trace disjunctions between scrap traders and state-backed projects that seek to bring western-style recycling systems, aesthetics, and ethics to China. A key argument of the book builds on this disjunction—that recycling "the right way" is an impossibility within late capitalism's regime of disposability, and that recycling as an imagined citizen-state partnership benefiting an abstract environment only appears to work in situations where the polluting and ineffecient industrial processing of recycling occurs elsewhere. In recent decades these "elsewheres" have largely been located in China and Asia more broadly, which has deeply shaped global imaginaries of urban environmental modernity. The book goes further to highlight how waste and the migrants who live off this waste in Kunming do much more than either protect or threaten environment. Together they are unruly collaborators that generate value, redirect flows of toxicity, and fuel new forms of sociality and collective politics that are largely illegible to the state.

Selected Writings:

"Global producer responsibility for plastic pollution" (collaborative team effort, Win Cowger et al. 2024). Science Advances, 10, eadj8275

"High-metabolism infrastructure and the scrap industry in urban China" (2023). The China Quarterly, 255, 560-574. **recipient of the Gordon White prize for the most original article in CQ in 2023**

"Harnessing the stenches of waste: Human bodies as olfactory environmental sensors in contemporary China" (2023). In Aromas of Asia: Exchanges, Histories, Threats (edited by Hannah Gould and Gwyn McClellend), Penn State University Press, 194-213.

"Waste politics in Asia and global repercussions" (2021). Education About Asia, 26(1), 35-40.

"Garbage bins are for containing people too" (2021). Contemporary China Centre Blog. Reprinted in Chapter 2 "Environment" in Cultural China 2021: The Contemporary China Centre Review (2022), edited by Séagh Kehoe and Gerda Wielander, p.32-36.

"Reconfiguring Chinese natures: Frugality and waste reutilization in Mao era urban China" (2019). Critical Asian Studies, 51(4), 537-557.

"Garbage as value and sorting as labour in China's new waste policy" (with Goeun Lee, 2019). Made in China Journal.

"No more of your junk" (2018). The New Internationalist, Issue 516, Nov/Dec.

"Plastic China: Sorting plastic, sorting people" (2018). Toxic News, Nov 1.

"Garbage, Waste-Products, and Value in Kunming" (2017). Anthropology News 57(6), e108-e111.

Back to Faculty