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College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

Faculty and Staff Profile

Yi Wu

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Office: 123 Brackett Hall

Phone: (864) 656-3823

Fax: (864) 656-1252

Educational Background

Ph.D. Cultural Anthropology
Columbia University 2010

M.A. Cultural Anthropology
State University of New York at Binghamton 1996

B.A. Philosophy
Renmin University of China 1989

Courses Taught

Anth 2010 Introduction to Anthropology (four-field approach)
Anth 3250 The Anthropology of Food
Anth 4280/6280 Law, Culture, and Society


Yi Wu is a cultural anthropologist working at the intersection of culture and law. Her research has mainly revolved around the social and cultural transformation of rural communities in China during the People’s Republic period (1949-present). Two central questions guide her research: How do long-held cultural norms metamorphosize when they articulate with the wider political economy and are invoked by social actors in particular situations? How does such metamorphosis cause social change in local communities? Yi Wu explores these questions through the lens of property rights and through ethnographic projects.

Yi Wu’s book Negotiating Rural Land Ownership in Southwest China: State, Village, Family (University of Hawaii Press, 2016) is based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in a hinterland county in southwest China. This fieldwork was supported by the NSF’s Law and Social Sciences Program and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Building on participant observation of village community life, analysis of local land disputes, and archival research, this book explores how the three major rural actors—local governments, village communities, and rural households—had contested and negotiated land rights in agricultural production and in the land market, resulting in a constantly changing hybrid land ownership system. An important contribution of the book is the development of the concept of “bounded collectivism,” which describes the landholding structure in southwest China that resulted from the struggle between the socialist state, which aimed to establish collective land ownership, and villages seeking exclusive control over land resources within their traditional territories.

Yi Wu’s current work examines the continual transformation of rural land rights in a new social context—the rapid urbanization process currently unfolding in China. Supported by the NSF’s Cultural Anthropology Program, Yi Wu will conduct multiple-year fieldwork to collect data from three villages in north and southwest China that characterize urbanization at different rates: completely urbanized, undergoing urbanization, and on the verge of urbanization. The goal is to understand the social and cultural mechanisms through which village communities and rural individuals exert control over their collectively-owned land--either successfully or not--in the context of land loss caused by urban development.

In addition to the above projects, Yi Wu is also exploring new research areas, such as sustainable rural development and food studies. She is interested in comparative study on how agriculture is planned and operates at the local community level in different social and cultural contexts.

Research Interests

Property rights, legal change, rural development, food studies, China, East Asian societies.

Research Publications

2016. Yi Wu
Negotiating Rural Land Ownership in Southwest China: State, Village, Family (A Study of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University). University of Hawaii Press.

2016. Yi Wu
"Land Rights, Political Differentiation, and China's Changing Land Market: Bounded Collectivism and Contemporary Village Administration." The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 14, Issue 1, No. 4, January 1, 2016

2014. Yi Wu
"Bounded Collectivism: Approaching Rural Land Rights and Labor Through 'Natural Villages' in Southwest China." The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 31, No. 3, August 4, 2014.


Introduction to Yi Wu's current NSF project

Yi Wu's book Negotiating Rural Land Ownership in Southwest China: State, Village, Family

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