Peer Reviewed Journal Articles



Under Review


Under review





A green development model: Transnational model-making in China's small hydropower training programs. Forthcoming in Area Development and Policy.

Abstract  The expansion of Chinese overseas investment and aid over the past decade has triggered concern that China is ‘exporting’ an environmentally destructive development model to other countries. Yet China’s foreign aid also includes training programs in ‘green’ technologies, such as small hydropower (SHP), that promote China’s achievements in green development. This paper analyzes the policies, technologies, and ideas about green development that these SHP training programs promote, and the commercial benefits that they provide for Chinese actors. I frame these training courses as model-making activities, in that they situate SHP as an green model that can be studied as part of China’s development transformation. Drawing on interviews and participant observation in two international workshops, I argue that training serves to shift attention from negative interpretations of the China model to a model of green development exemplified by SHP. This helps to improve China’s developmental reputation and promote the SHP industry.  These results suggests the need for greater attention to the politics and practices of green model-making in China, and its implications for Chinese overseas investment and aid.

From rural development to green industry: Small hydropower in China and the transformation of rural renewable energy. Under review.

Abstract  Small-scale renewable energy systems supply electricity in many rural areas of the Global South, and contribute to both rural development and carbon mitigation goals. Yet, despite calls for scaling-up these systems, further expansion is limited by low profits and lack of financing. In China, however, small hydropower (SHP) has grown rapidly from remote plants producing electricity for villagers to one of China’s largest green energy industries. This paper analyzes this transformation from rural development to green industry, and the profit motivations and political incentives that shape SHP implementation. Data were collected from interviews with government officials, SHP investors, plant operators, and farmers in Xinping county, located in Yunnan province in China’s southwest. This study finds that investors and officials are incentivized to build and operate ‘industrial’ SHP systems that have a high installed capacity, are situated in multiple-plant cascades, and that attempt to operate year-round, including during the dry season. This can reduce irrigation water access for local farmers and threaten the ecology of local streams. These findings highlight the risks of rapid expansion of industrial SHP for local communities in China and elsewhere. More broadly, this paper suggests that rural development and green power generation are not always mutually reinforcing, and that the aims of industrial renewable energy production should take rural peoples’ needs and contributions into account.

Shades of green energy: Geographies of small hydropower in southwest China and the challenges of over-development. Under review (with Thomas Hennig).

Abstract  Small hydropower (SHP) in China has grown rapidly since the early 2000s, particularly in the water-rich provinces in the country’s southwest. Unlike large dams, SHP has a global reputation as a ‘green’, low-carbon energy source that improves rural livelihoods and contributes to local economic development. However, because SHP plants in China are privately-operated and approved by local governments, there is an incentive construct large, multiple-cascade systems to generate as much power as possible. In many areas, this has led to over-development of SHP and associated negative environmental and social impacts. In this paper, we analyze the geographies of SHP development in Yunnan province, one of the world’s largest hydropower producing regions. Drawing on interviews and electricity generation data from six Yunnan prefectures, we describe the local contextual factors that shape SHP in different locations, which include grid structure, grid connectivity, local industrial development strategy, main electricity consumers, and local energy portfolio. From these factors, we construct a typology of possible SHP trajectories and identify the combination of factors that lead to over-development. We then analyze the environmental implications of SHP over-development and the challenges that these pose for clean energy production and sustainable rural development, and make recommendations for SHP policy and management. The findings of this paper will help inform environmental standards for SHP in China, and offer lessons for other countries in developing ‘green’ SHP for rural electrification and low-carbon growth.

New Uyghur corporate entrepreneurs in Urumqi, China. Central Asian Survey 31 (2), 175-191 (with Michael Webber).   

Abstract  Although China’s Uyghurs have progressively engaged in informal trade following economic reforms, in recent years a small group of corporate Uyghur entrepreneurs have positioned themselves in more formal industries where they hold a cultural advantage. However, we argue that the clustering of firms and a lack of experience and capital limits entrepreneurs’ ability to compete with established Han businesses. This restricts Uyghur economic participation more generally, contributing to labour-market inequalities and ethnic tension in cities like Urumqi. The authors conclude that government support for Uyghur entrepreneurs is a crucial step to strengthen economic development and reduce ethnic tension in the region.

Private sector development in Xinjiang, China: A comparison between Uyghur and HanEspace Populations Sociétés 2009/3, 407-418.

Abstract  Private sector development has been sluggish in China’s west, where ethnic minorities make up a sizable part of the population. In the northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the state maintains a steady presence in the small but growing private sector, largely populated by Han-owned firms and entrepreneurs. The Uyghurs, one of fourteen recognized ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, primarily reside in the poorer agricultural south where the private sector has made few inroads. Not surprisingly, Uyghurs have little presence in the private sector beyond informal trade. This has considerable implications for ethnic relations in a region already threatened by rising Uyghur-Han tensions. Massive ethnic riots in Urumqi in July 2009, sparked by protests by urban Uyghurs, exemplify the significant economic gap between ethnic groups. This paper addresses this disparity in the private sector by investigating two related issues : private sector concentration in Xinjiang’s urban north and levels of participation between Han and Uyghur. It concludes that growth and integration of Uyghur entrepreneurs into the urban private sector forms a crucial step in maintaining ethnic stability in the region.

Scholarly Book Chapters


Fringe existence: Uyghur entrepreneurs and ethnic relations in urban Xinjiang. In Hillman, B. and Davis, G., eds., Ethnic Conflict and Protest in Tibet and Xinjiang: Unrest in China’s West. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 179-200.

Abstract  In the summer of 2009, tensions between Han and Uyghur residents erupted into violence on the streets of Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Analyses of this outbreak have pointed to economic inequality as a root cause of the violence. In Xinjiang the cities of the industrialized North have experienced rapid urbanization in recent years as both Han and Uyghur migrants arrive seeking employment opportunities. But Uyghurs often find themselves unable to find jobs in the formal private sector and experience segregation in urban labor markets vis-à-vis Han workers. In Urumqi the urban economy is dominated by state owned enterprises and a growing private sector composed largely of Han firms, neither of which hire many Uyghurs. This has created a surplus of Uyghur labor and has exacerbated ethnic tensions, presenting a major impediment to the improvement of ethnic relations following the 2009 violence. 

This chapter demonstrates that an Urumqi “ethnic enclave” of Uyghur businesses is a primary arena of interethnic interaction, tension, and cooperation in Xinjiang. Most Uyghur entrepreneurs, I suggest, cluster in fringe industries and markets where they have a cultural advantage, and they rely almost exclusively on networks with fellow Uyghurs to obtain resources and capital. This restricts their ability to compete with Han firms and stifles long-term growth. I show, however, that the few Uyghur entrepreneurs who have managed to expand their businesses—to “break out” of the ethnic enclave— have built relationships with Han firms and government officials. These entrepreneurs view interethnic cooperation and state support as crucial to the growth of their businesses and to the development of the Uyghur private sector as a whole. They also see themselves as a modernizing force in Uyghur society by challenging “backward” practices and traditions and by providing employment for Uyghur workers. In this way successful entrepreneurs promote business development and interethnic cooperation as a path to modernization, one that is not antagonistic toward the Chinese state.