Date of Award

Spring 4-16-2018

Semester of Degree


Document Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in Environmental Science


Environmental Science, Division of

Major Professor

David Sonnenfeld

Steering Committee Member

David A. Sonnenfeld

Steering Committee Member

Guobin Yang

Steering Committee Member

Andrea M. Parker

Steering Committee Member

Lindi J. Quackenbush


Scientists have always been part of the environmental movement in Western countries, and a wave of professionalization of environmental organizations took place in in the 1970s in the US. By contrast, scientists used to be silent in China’s environmental movement. After more than two decades of development of the environmental movement in China, escalating environmental health issues became the new challenge for environmental advocates as they are scientifically complex and uncertain. Also with the prevailing use of social media, experts started to actively engage in discussion and advocacy of environmental health issues. This interdisciplinary study draws on scholarship from Science and Technology Studies, and on Non-Government Organizations’ (NGOs’) professionalization, and Social Movements. It contributes to these bodies of scholarship by examining the rapidly growing civic engagement of scientists in China, the scientization of Chinese environmental NGOs (eNGOs), and the causes for environmental advocates to take the professionalization approach. The dissertation draws on interviews and observations carried out in ten cities across China, from February 2014 – May 2015. The capital of China, Beijing, where research institutes, media agencies, and eNGOs concentrate, was the primary research site. Mixed research methods were utilized, including participant-observation of an entrepreneurial science popularization organization and many events, 118 in-depth interviews, and analysis of available materials. This study finds that Chinese scientists, who used to be invisible, have become increasingly vocal. Experts have engaged in environmental health issues in China mainly in three forms: policy suggestion, organizational advocacy, and science communication. The common motivations for them to act and speak on environmental health issues have been a sense of obligation to contribute with expertise, and the sense of satisfaction from engaging in those issues in the public sphere. The causes for them to choose a particular form of engagement vary. Chinese eNGOs have undergone a transformation of scientization, and individuals choose to take this approach with a combination of rational, cognitive and emotional considerations.