Visiting scholar Prof. Dunfu Zhang reflects on his research interests, 19 September 2014

While most Chinese sociologists are focusing on grand narratives such as social transformation, globalization, the state-society relationship, and important issues such as migration (especially migrant workers), urbanization and social governance, I am more interested in seemingly trivial, everyday things. Why do Chinese kids prefer bottled drinks while their parents and grand-parents like tea? Where does second hand clothing (especially children’s) and furniture go – is it recycled or does it get sent to landfill? Why is human excrement (shit - what an embarrassing topic for those orthodox, well-established social scientists!) massively processed by modern sanitation systems, instead of being individually collected as a source of traditional agricultural fertilizer (like I experienced when I was a young boy in rural China)? Why and how is China full of cars now whereas people used bicycles in the 1970s-1990s? What people in different countries do with their different kinds of rubbish and useless stuff? Are we mistaking treasure for trash? To me these everyday-life practices of inconspicuous consumption mean a lot to a future green (or grey) planet.

Prof. Dunfu Zhang is a senior visiting fellow at the SCI, based at the School of Sociology and Political Sciences, Shanghai University, China. His visiting fellowship (May-Oct 2014) is financially supported by the China Scholarship Council, during which he is working on a proposal “Idea, Behaviour and Social Policy of Sustainable Consumption”.