Tyler Harlan is an Assistant Professor of environmental studies at Loyola Marymount University. He received his PhD in geography from UCLA. Most recently, he was an Atkinson postdoctoral fellow in sustainability at Cornell University. His research examines the political economy and uneven socio-environmental impacts of China’s energy transition, and the implications of this transition for other industrialising countries. His two years of research fieldwork have taken him all over China and Southeast Asia.

State of Sensitivity: Navigating Fieldwork in an Increasingly Authoritarian China

This essay reflects on the process of designing, conducting, and writing about fieldwork in China’s politically-sensitive environment. I draw on my experience as a foreign scholar researching the hydropower industry from 2013–18, a period of growing authoritarianism in China. I describe attempts and strategies (both successful and unsuccessful) to navigate sensitivity in framing my project, accessing and conducting interviews, and sharing results. Overall, my aim is to provide a sense of cautious optimism for early-career scholars headed into the field.

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