This article can be found in the current issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs regarding Urban activism in Eastern Europe and China: Socio-spatial structures and scales of contention.
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Spatial meaning-making and urban activism: Two tales of anti-PX protests in urban China, by Xiaoyi Sun & Ronggui Huang
Urban space plays an important role in shaping the meaning-making process in relation to urban activism, especially for disorganized, spontaneous, and short-lived protests occurring in authoritarian regimes. Taking protests against locally unwanted land use (LULU) projects as an example, this article examines how urban space shapes the meaning-making process in relation to 2 anti-paraxylene (PX) protests in Kunming and Maoming. Particular attention is paid to how residents’ interpretations of the hazards of PX shaped the meaning-making process on social media. In the case of Kunming, a city with a long history of natural environmental conservation, the primary frame employed by residents was environment and health risks. In the case of Maoming, a large petrochemical industrial center with severe air pollution, residents expressed their opposition toward the PX project by emphasizing strong distrust in local government. Participants’ differentiated meaning-making processes were shaped by the dual space of cities, namely physical conditions and associated meanings and place-bounded historical memories of daily life. This article contributes to the scholarship on cities and social movements by integrating the theories of space/place and the theory of framing to analyze the spatial meaning-making process in relation to urban activism in China and in transitional economies in general.