At the Bottom of the Heap
Socio-economic Circumstances and Health Practices and Beliefs among Garbage Collectors in Peri-Urban China
Author: Lichao Yang
This article explores the health, disease, and socioeconomic circumstances of garbage collectors in Guiyang, southwestern China. It aims to contribute to medical anthropology and understandings of Chinese society by examining garbage collectors’ understandings of waste picking, pollution and the health risks and diseases associated with their struggles for survival at the ‘bottom of the heap’ of peri-urban society in contemporary China. Drawing on one month of ethnographic fieldwork, it provides new insights into the oft-neglected subjectivity of individuals struggling for survival at the margins of Chinese society, and how this subjectivity is shaped by their structural position as well as by their own agency in making sense and making the best of their lives.