The Power of Data From the Global South: Environmental Civic Tech and Data Activism in China

Yu Sun, Wenjie Yan


This article explores how an established environmental nongovernmental organization, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), engaged in data activism around a civic tech platform in China, expanding the space for public participation. By conducting participatory observation and interviews, along with document analysis, we describe three modes of data activism that represent different mechanisms of civic oversight in the environmental sphere. Unlike contentious data activism in the Western context, we argue that IPE activists’ data practices are localized in the specific sociopolitical culture shaped by China’s authoritarian system. These practices do not involve contentious political criticism against the government, although they have monitoring functions. By finding the middle ground between confrontation and state control, IPE activists participated in the political process as policy entrepreneurs who pursue their political goals in cooperation with the government. Rather than mobilizing radical contestation, environmental data activism in China works as a constructive alternative to the denial of the existing government system, transmitting public input into the policy-making process.


data activism, environmental civic tech, big data, Global South, China

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