2 DECEMBER 2022
In 2022, the Unit of Social Anthropology celebrated its 80th anniversary! The ROADWORK team was happy to participate in the preparations of the jubilee and celebrate this round birthday with the Unit’s team.
18 NOVEMBER 2022
Symposium “The Belt and Road Initiative: Local and Regional Perspectives from Central Asia,” University of Fribourg
After 4.5 years, the ROADWORK project is ending in February 2023. In this final symposium that gathered development aid practitioners, academics and policy makers from Europe and Central Asia, we summarized the main research findings of the project and discussed their political relevance. The guest speakers from Central Asia, and our guests from the Swiss government agencies and research institutes contributed further invaluable insights. We would like to thank all the participants for generously having shared their knowledge and time with us. It was an unforgettable event!
The ROADWORK team gave the following talks: “Maintaining the Flow: Invisible Labour and Critical Relations in the Supply Chain Economy” (Verena La Mela), “Maintaining Roads and Destroying Ecosystems in Northwest China” (Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi), “BRI Roads at the Edge of Central and South Asia: Patchworks of Institutions, Expectations and Ideologies” (Till Mostowlansky), “Understanding the National Narrative of the BRI from China’s Borderlands” (Thomas White), “China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway: the ‘Missing Link’ in the New Silk Road” (Emilia Sulek), and “More-than-BRI: Local Perspectives on Road Projects in Kyrgyzstan” (Zarina Urmanbetova).
15-16 NOVEMBER 2022
14-17 OCTOBER 2022
Workshop “Roads, Political Imaginaries, and State Building,” University of Toronto, Department of Geography and Planning
Agnieszka acted as a discussant and Zarina as a paper presenter at this fantastic workshop organized by Kathrin Rankin and Nadine Plachta from the Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto.
The workshop brought together key nodes of scholarship exploring the ethnographic dimensions of road and infrastructure development in Asia, and gathered both academics and practitioners from the Canadian construction industry.
SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER 2022
14-17 SEPTEMBER 2022
During this workshop we asked what does thinking ‘with’ animals and infrastructure reveal about the expectations and failures of modernity. The event gathered scholars from both Europe and Asia and was followed by a special issue of a peer-reviewed OA journal Roadsides “Infrastructure and the Animal,” edited by Emilia Sulek and Thomas White. During the workshop, Emilia, Verena and Tom presented their research papers, while Agnieszka and Zarina acted as discussants.
The published special issue can be found here: https://roadsides.net/collection-no-008/
The workshop was possible thanks to the generous support of the Swiss National Science Foundation and the University of Fribourg.
13 SEPTEMBER 2022
Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi and Alessandro Rippa
We were excited to talk with Beril Ocaklı from novastan.org about China’s global role and the myths that have emerged around the Belt and Road Initiative since its launch in 2013. This conversation was a continuation of a larger discussion that we initiated with the publication of two factsheets in the summer of 2022: https://bri.roadworkasia.com/ and https://chinadevelopmentmodel.roadworkasia.com
The published interview in English (‘China in Central Asia: Fact-checking and myth-busting’) can be read here: https://novastan.org/en/uyghur-region/china-in-central-asia-fact-checking-and-myth-busting/?noredirect=en-GB
25-26 AUGUST 2022
Conference “Knowledge Production in/on Central Asia: Forms, Purposes and Practices,” University of Fribourg
26-29 JULY 2022
Zarina and Verena attended the 17th EASA Biennial Conference “Transformations, Hope and the Commons.”
Zarina was part of the two-session panel “Promising Growth: Anthropological Reflections on Sprawling Infrastructure and Inequality.” Her presentation “Wanted and Unwanted Connections: Where are People’s Eyes, Hopes, and Plans Directed” was delivered online as the conference was held in a hybrid format. The session broadly discussed the concept of growth concerning unequal promises of progress and grounding reflections on the concepts of “infrastructural promises.”
3-10 JULY 2022
Roundtable: Everyday state surveillance and securitization in and beyond Tibet, The 16th International Association for Tibetan Studies, Prague
23 – 25 JUNE 2022
Conference panel: Infrastructural Development and Human-Nonhuman Coexistence in Asian Borderlands, the 7th Conference of the Asian Borderland Research Network ‘Borderland Futures: Technologies, Zones, Co-existences’, Chung-Ang University, Seoul, South Korea
Emilia and Tom attended the conference on site and co-hosted a panel together, which explored the ways in which infrastructure mediates the relations
between humans and nonhumans, and enquires into the politics that have have emerged in border regions in response to the threats to both wildlife and domestic animals posed by infrastructural development.
Often situated far from sites of industry and urban development and their concomitant environmental harms, borderlands across Asia are sites of significant biodiversity, as well as practices of extensive pastoralism characterised by a high degree of animal mobility. In recent years, however, many border areas have become sites of a range of large-scale infrastructure projects, including expressways, railways and mining-related infrastructure.
23 – 26 JUNE 2022
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
A group of promising PhD researchers 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 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.
Prof. Judd Kinzley (University of Wisconsin, Madison) 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.
20-22 MAY 2022
This wonderful workshop hosted by the Asian Institute and the ‘China Made’ Project gathered international scholars to discuss the question ‘What is global China?’ based on their various research projects in Asia and Africa. The workshop was devoted to developing new ways of thinking about ‘global China’ and understanding the impact that this concept has had over the past years on both academic and political debates.
20 MAY 2022
2022 SEASGRAD Conference: Southeast Asian De/Neo/Inter/Post-Colonialism(s)
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
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.
APRIL & MAY 2022
Field research Nurly and Khorgos (Kazakhstan)
Verena La Mela
28 APRIL 2022
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
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
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 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
Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi and Verena La Mela
Verena attended the conference virtually with a talk about “Bounded Mobilities in Khorgos.” Her presentation featured in the panel “Chinese Infrastructure and Mobility.”
14 MARCH 2022
Anthro-Geo-Colloquium I at the University of Fribourg
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
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
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
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
17 FEBRUARY 2022
“Infrastructure and Life” – Interdisciplinary Reading Group
Season 007 Episode 001
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”
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
19 JANUARY 2022
“Infrastructure and Life” – Interdisciplinary Reading Group
Season 006 Episode 003