Liebman, Adam D., Ph.D.
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 discard studies, political ecology, the anthropology of development, junk art, the environmental humanities, 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 political-economic analytics for theorizing agency and human embeddedness in the more-than-human world; and (2) addressing global environmental and social justice challenges through critical scholarship, innovative pedagogy, and praxis that extend beyond academia. These goals are at the heart of my current book project, Uncontained: Waste Circulations in and Beyond China. The book offers a political anthropology of structurally aligned discards that are shaped by but extend beyond the political borders of China, including bodies, objects, and places. It does so through an ethnographic account centering the lives of informal waste workers—a 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. These disjunctions illustrate the contradictory ways that Chinese waste politics engages with recycling: as a necessary element of urban environmental modernity imagined to be lacking in China, and as a environmentally unjust transnational industry reliant on cheap labor and inadequate environmental governance. The book goes further to highlight how waste and the migrants who live off this waste do much more than either protect or threaten the environment. Together they form 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.
"High-metabolism infrastructure and the scrap industry in urban China" (2023). The China Quarterly, 255, 560-574. (open access pre-publication version)
"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. (Chinese version, also includes the article above)Back to Faculty