Events 2022

23 – 26 JUNE 2022

CESS Tashkent Regional Conference
 
Zarina Urmanbetova
 

The 7th regional summer conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society, organized in collaboration with the European Society for Central Asian Studies, was held at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Over 300 researchers from around the world and the Central Asian region attended the conference. The event was originally scheduled for summer 2020 but was pushed back to summer 2022 owing to the pandemic.

Zarina Urmanbetova actively participated in the conference in many roles. During the roundtable discussion “China and BRI’s growing footprint in Central Eurasia: an interdisciplinary dialogue on governance, markets, and souls,” she spoke about “The BRI name(s) and funding in Central Asia.” She chaired the conversation at the panel ‘Infrastructure of Memory: Central Asia – Common and Special.” Moreover, Zarina organized a roundtable discussion on “Being a Woman Researcher in Central Eurasia.”

15 – 17 JUNE 2022

CUSO workshop “Infrastructure and Life”
 
Roadwork team
 

A group of promising young scholars were invited to present their research to transdisciplinary panel of international scholars. The event took place in the Europe’s highest permeant settlement – the village of Juf in the Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland. The invited PhD candidates presented on a wide assortment of topics including the politics of dam building in Turkey, the social life of roads in Kyrgyzstan, the wild infrastructures of Paraguay, and science-fiction theme parks in China.

Zarina Urmanbetova and Björn Reichhardt from the ROADWORK project organized this highly successful event. Other ROADWORK team members – Emilia Sulek, Judd Kinzley and Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi – served as discussants. Prof. Tina Harris from the University of Amsterdam has given an inspiting keynote speech. The workshop concluded with a guided tour of the hydropower dam at Lago di Lei in Avers Valley.

15 – 17 JUNE 2022

Talk “After the enclave: labourers, locals, and the political ecology of the BRI” at the University of Manchester

Thomas White

Thomas was an invited participant at the workshop China as Context, held at the University of Manchester and the LSE in London, where he gave a paper which discussed the relationship between road construction camps and local herders in a remote part of Inner Mongolia.

14 JUNE 2022

Belt and Road podcast episode 55: The Politics of Infrastructure Maintenance and Decay with Roadwork
 
Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi and Zarina Urmanbetova
 

Podcasts have become part of our daily soundscapes. We can listen to different discussions and commentaries on a variety of topics and in a wide range of formats. For us as researchers it is important to communicate our research findings also to non-academic audiences, therefore, we regularly look for and engage in creative forms of communication in addition to typical academic outlets. We were delighted to join Juliet Lu and Eric Myxter-Iino from the Belt and Road Podcast to discuss the ROADWORK project and our research in it.

Our work is based on long-term ethnographic field research on infrastructure and the labor of maintenance, and offers a different perspective on a significant and widely-discussed topic—the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Much research has been conducted on the Initiative and its potential geopolitical implications for countries and regions. In this episode, Agnieszka and Zarina talk about how the BRI materializes on the ground in our field sites in Xinjiang in northwest China, and in Kyrgyzstan. We gathered the knowledge of the BRI by driving on and walking along the roads that have recently been built or are currently under construction; we have lived along them, travelled alongside other people, observed the interactions, and experienced the tensions and disconnectivities, too. We talk about it all in this newest episode of the Belt and Road Podcast. We wish you all an enjoyable time listening!

JUNE 2022

Prof. Judd Kinzley (University of Wisconsin, Madison) visits the ROADWORK project

In early June we welcomed the second visiting scholar on the ROADWORK project – Prof. Judd Kinzley from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. During his stay in Fribourg, Judd worked on an article exploring the long-distance connectivities across the Eurasian continent during the WWII period. He also acted as a discussant during the CUSO workshop ‘Infrastructure and Life’.

MAY-JUNE 2022

Prof. Eric Schluessel (George Washington University) visits the ROADWORK project
 

In May we welcomed Prof. Eric Schluessel (George Washington University) as the first visiting scholar in the ROADWORK project. During his stay at the University of Fribourg, Eric collaborated with the ROADWORK team and worked on a research article in which he explores the mobility of Uyghur traders in the Tarim Basin in the late nineteenth century.

20 MAY 2022

2022 SEASGRAD Conference: Southeast Asian De/Neo/Inter/Post-Colonialism(s)

Zarina Urmanbetova

The Southeast Asian Studies Graduate Student Association (SEASGRAD) at the University of California, Riverside hosted its third annual conference, Southeast Asian De/Neo/Inter/Post-Colonialism (s), on May 20–21, 2022.

The conference was virtual, and Zarina Urmanbetova participated as a discussant on the panel “Spatial and Environmental Justice”. The papers were delivered by graduate students and researchers from different universities in the US and Southeast Asia. The panel addressed various environmental, material, ecological, socio-cultural, political, and spatial issues the region is currently grappling with as a result of past colonial practices, policies, and legacy.

Zarina reviewed the papers’ themes, charted the course for the discussion, and noted that the decolonial and postcolonial approaches of these works are also relevant to Central Asia. Zarina attended the conference as part of her stay as a visiting scholar at the Southeast Asian Studies Program at UCR.

5-6 MAY 2022

“The BRI & peripheral imaginaries: Evidence from the developing world” at the University of Virginia

Zarina Urmanbetova

The one-day workshop, which began on the afternoon of May 5 and continued through the first half of the following day, brought together scholars of various disciplines on the green and historical campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The workshop “BRI & peripheral imaginaries: evidence from the developing world” was organised as part of the University of Virginia’s Assessment of China’s Belt & Road Initiative project. Our colleague, Galen Murton from James Madison University, co-organized the event.

The workshop was held in hybrid format, with some participants joining in presentations and discussions via Zoom. Participants shared their research findings from different places such as Kenya, Fiji, Pakistan, Namibia, Nepal, and Kyrgyzstan. In addition, representatives of such projects as AidData, which collects and indexes data about BRI projects worldwide, introduced their work and possibilities of using information from their platforms for researchers. On the second day of the workshop, Prof. Brantly Womack, Emeritus Professor of Politics at UVA, gave a keynote talk.

From the ROADWORK team, Zarina delivered a presentation on Kyrgyzstan’s Alternative North-South Road and the importance of the new connection for the people of the villages along the road and for the state.

28 APRIL 2022

Invited Talk “The Rough Side of Silk: Connectivity and (Dis)Repair on Central Asia’s New Roads”, Weltmuseum, Vienna
 

Emilia Sułek

Emilia Sułek gives a talk during a symposium accompanying the exhibition Dust & Silk in Weltmuseum, Vienna.

Can BRI roads live up to to the high expectations placed in them? Do they bring peace, development and prosperity for all? While the media coverage related to the BRI-project focuses on construction-related expenditure, kilometres of roads (built or only planned) and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, in her talk in Vienna Emilia Sulek showed some phenomena that are only visible after the camera lights go out: the more down-to-earth side of these new roads and their mundane effects on the ground.

The exhibition Dust & Silk was organized in cooperation with the research project Dispersed and Connected, Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences.

25 APRIL 2022

Yartsa Gumbu: A case of an economic agency on China’s political periphery
 

Emilia Sułek

Discussion (with invited guests) on the book by Emilia Sułek Trading Caterpillar Fungus in Tibet: When Economic Boom Hits Rural Area (Amsterdam University Press)

The 21st century has seen a number of booms in pharmaceutical products, with their roots in so-called traditional medicine, but processed for the capitalist market. One of such products is yartsa gumbu or caterpillar fungus. Like Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s work on matsutake, Sulek’s monograph tells more than the story of a medicinal fungus in demand on the Chinese market. It also (or perhaps above all) tells the story of the relationship between the state and the citizen, especially the Chinese state and the Tibetan citizen in a region often treated as politically marginal and lacking economic vigour.

Emilia thanks Agnieszka Halemba and the Polish Academy of Sciences for the invitation.

22 APRIL 2022

Guest lecture “The rough side of the New Silk Road,” Chair of Chinese Culture and Society, University of St. Gallen

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi

In her lecture, Agnieszka discussed the expansion of infrastructure networks in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, and focused on the politics of infrastructure decay and maintenance in this geopolitically crucial region, which has been the target of violent state repressions since 2016.

1 APRIL 2022

Talk “Fragile Connectivity: Maintaining Roads and Relations in China’s Northwest” at the Department of Anthropology, SEATRiP program, University of California in Riverside

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi

Agnieszka gave a talk at the University of California in Riverside, hosted by The Southeast Asian Studies program. It was the first face-to-face event on the UCR campus in two years due to the pandemic. The local complied with all local regulations to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

Agnieszka’s lecture inspired an exciting discussion with faculty and students from different countries and departments, including undergraduate and graduate students.

The audience were very interested in the topic of maintaining infrastructures in the context of relations with the environment and various social and human factors. There were also several engaging questions about migration and the relocation of particular groups because of environmental and other factors from the territory Agnieszka spoke about in her presentation. 

We are grateful for the warm welcome we received on campus and for the opportunity to share our research with colleagues and students at the University of California, Riverside.

22-25 MARCH 2022

Input in the roundtable “The Social Lives of Asian Infrastructure: A Roundtable on Methodology,” The Association of Asian Studies Annual Meeting, Honolulu, Hawai’i
 

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi

Agnieszka participated in the roundtable “The Social Lives of Asian Infrastructure: A Roundtable on Methodology” with an input on team fieldwork and ethnographic mapping. It was a great pleasure to confer the panel on site and have the opportunity to listen to the interventions bother panelists: Prof. Christina Schwenkel (University of California, Riverside), Prof. Rashmi Sadana (George Mason University) and Prof. Julie Y. Chu (University of Chicago).

14 MARCH 2022

Anthro-Geo-Colloquium I at the University of Fribourg

Emilia Sułek

During the first Anthro-Geo-Colloquium organized by social anthropologists and human geographers from the University of Fribourg Emilia talks about road infrastructure, donkey hide trade, and pharmaceutical industry in China. 

8 MARCH 2022

Talks “Maintaining relations: Life with and without roads in Northwest China” and “The Afterlife of the Coloured Steel Hut: Infrastructure construction and provisional rurality in Inner Mongolia,”MIASU Research Seminar, Unit of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi and Thomas White
 

After two years of waiting and hoping that on-site events will be possible again, Agnieszka and Thomas gave their talks in the MIASU Research Seminar. Agnieszka’s talk “Maintaining relations: Life with and without roads in Northwest China” focused on the complex politics of infrastructure maintenance in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In his talk “The Afterlife of the Coloured Steel Hut: Infrastructure construction and provisional rurality in Inner Mongolia,” Thomas explored the second life of abandoned road construction materials as they enter the lives of Mongolian pastoralists.

5 MARCH 2022

Visiting Scholar in the Program of Southeast Asian Studies, in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, University of California in Riverside
 
Zarina Urmanbetova
 

Zarina is spending the spring quarter as a visiting scholar at the University of California in Riverside, in the Southeast Asian Studies Program, in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While at UCR, she will be working on her dissertation chapters under the mentorship of Prof. Dr Christina Schwenkel.

Zarina is attending the graduate course on Professionalism in Anthropology by Prof. Schwenkel and participating in the launch of the infrastructure reading group at UCR’s Department of Anthropology. We hope that Zarina will have a fruitful stay at UCR.

28 FEBRUARY 2022

RDWK Team Colloquium VIII: Collective brainstorming
 
ROADWORK team
 
The second RDWK team colloquium in 2022 was of an experimental format: We had a collective brainstorming session in order to explore the notion of “centrality” within Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) projects. We questioned the dominant geo-political narrative of BRI “connectivity” and explored how “being central” is experienced and phrased by actors enlivening spaces represented as transit zones.

22 FEBRUARY 2022

Intervention  “Khorgos – the Making of an Equal Twin on the Sino-Kazakh border,” Book launch of Twin Cities across Five Continents: Interactions and Tension on Urban Borders
Global Studies Institute, Geneva

 

Verena La Mela

The Global Studies Institute in Geneva hosted the book launch of the second volume Twin Cities across Five Continents, edited by Ekaterina Mikhailova and John Garrard. There, Verena presented her Twin Cities book chapter “Khorgos – the Making of an Equal Twin on the Sino-Kazakh border.” Aligned with the book’s theoretical orientation, in her chapter she presents Khorgos as a case study of a twin city with a dominant (Chinese) and a subordinate (Kazakh) part. Despite visible inequality in terms of infrastructure development, Verena argues that we need to pay attention to and recognize Kazakhstan’s efforts to promote its own narrative of the trans-boundary cooperation and the related infrastructure construction.

17 FEBRUARY 2022

“Infrastructure and Life” – Interdisciplinary Reading Group
Season 007 Episode 001

ROADWORK team and friends
 
The new infrastructure reading group year continued with texts by Sheila Jasanoff “Future Imperfect: Science, Technology, and the Imaginations of Modernity” (in Dreamscapes of Modernity. Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power (2015) edited by Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim) and by Austin Zeiderman “Concrete Peace: Building Security through Infrastructure in Colombia” (Anthropological Quarterly (2020) 93(3): 497-528).

5 FEBRUARY 2022

Call for papers for ROADSIDES Collection No. 008 on “Infrastructure and the Animal”

Emilia Sułek and Tom White

Emilia and Tom announce the call for papers for ROADSIDES Collection No. 008 (Fall 2022) called “Infrastructure and the Animal”. In this special issue the editors ask what thinking with animals and infrastructure can reveal about the expectations and failures of modernity.

More info under the link: https://roadsides.net/call-for-papers.

The contributors will be invited to Fribourg to present their papers at a workshop under the same title.

31 JANUARY 2022

Conversation about Natalia Bloch’s book “Encounters across Difference. Tourism and Overcoming Subalternity in India”
Online

Emilia Sułek

Emilia has the pleasure of being a discussant in a conversation about Natalia Bloch’s book “Encounters across Difference. Tourism and Overcoming Subalternity in India” (Rowman and Littlefield 2021). She talks about tourism infrastructure, informal economy, agency and the Tibetan diaspora in India. The meeting was organised by the Asian Studies Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences. 

27 JANUARY 2022

RDWK Team Colloquium VII: Talk “Choke Points: How things move in Chinese borderlands and what happens when they don’t,” Judd Kinzley, University of Wisconsin
University of Fribourg, online
 
Roadwork team
 
Our ROADWORK team colloquium reconvened in January 2022. The starting talk was delivered by our colleague Judd Kinzley who focused on the power of international markets in Chinese border regions. Using the examples of petroleum in Xinjiang and hog bristles in Sichuan, his talk revealed how local actors in these regions have created and exploited “chokepoints” in the flow of these goods for their own benefit. The phenomenon is part of a larger story about capital flows, production, transport infrastructure, and the agency of local agents.

19 JANUARY 2022

“Infrastructure and Life” – Interdisciplinary Reading Group
Season 006 Episode 003

ROADWORK team and friends
 
Our first infrastructure reading group in 2022 kicked-off in a hybrid mode at one of our group member´s place in Zurich and online. We heralded the year with texts by Hannah Knox “Traversing the infrastructures of digital life” (Digital Anthropology (2021), edited by Haidy Geismar and Hannah Knox) and Akhil Gupta’s “Infrastructure as Decay and the Decay of Infrastructure” (in Decay (2021), edited by Ghassan Hage).