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Alumna Studies Biotechnology to Manage Environmental Challenges

May 1, 2017

Amy Zhang (PhD 2016, Anthropology, Forestry & Environmental Studies) is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. Her research explores the development of urban infrastructure and how it interfaces with politics in China. Specifically, she studies the use of “green” biotechnology for treating organic waste.

Zhang’s dissertation, advised by Helen Siu and Michael Dove, examines the waste management crisis in Guangzhou – the third-largest city in China – and analyzes how the material practices of informal collectors and the growing opposition by citizens and environmentalists challenge the state’s vision of development, modernization, and city planning. Her research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada).

Last semester, before graduating in December, Zhang was awarded the Roy Rappaport Award from the Anthropology and Environment Society of the American Anthropological Association for her paper, “Ecologies of Enclosure: Reconfiguring the Black Soldier Fly for urban waste management in Guangzhou.” Her winning essay traces the development of a pilot project in environmental management that uses the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) to treat organic waste in gated communities of urban China. She explores two prototypes that create an artificial ecological niche and a system of fly reproduction, and discusses how to alleviate the fear of contamination and disease that the presence of the fly provokes when it is released from the lab into the community.

Her article, “Rational Resistance: Homeowner contentions against waste incineration in Guangzhou,” was published in China Perspectives. She is author or co-author of other articles and several book chapters.

At Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Zhang is turning her dissertation into a book. In the fall, she will move to New York for a faculty position at NYU in the Department of Anthropology.