Liebman, Adam D., Ph.D.
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, the environmental humanities, and Chinese and Asian studies. At DePauw I teach courses related to environmental justice and sustainability, in addition to core anthropology courses. 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 conceptual tools for theorizing 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 examines China's evolving "garbage crisis" through an ethnographic account that centers 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 entrepreneurs who 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 polluting 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, release toxicity, and fuel new forms of sociality and collective politics that are largely illegal to the state.
"High-metabolism infrastructure and the scrap industry in urban China" (2022). The China Quarterly, 1-15. (open access pre-publication version)
"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)