Kith and Kin

In this section we introduce research projects which share our interest in the social life of infrastructure in Asia and beyond.

Environing Infrastructure: Communities, Ecologies, and China’s “Green” Development in Contemporary Southeast Asia

Hydropower construction in Yunnan (Rippa, 2016)

Environing Infrastructure: Communities, Ecologies, and China’s “Green” Development in Contemporary Southeast Asia is a five-year research project (2020-2025) funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. It is carried out by a team of researchers based at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich. It focuses on the environmental components of Chinese large-scale infrastructure development in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia, a major target for Chinese investments, is on the brink of numerous ecological crises. There is rising awareness across the region of the potentially devastating environmental impact of Chinese infrastructure projects. On the other hand, China is a crucial economic partner and a model of development.

Environing Infrastructure studies these dynamics by engaging with local communities and Chinese planners through long-term, comparative ethnographic research. Rooted in Social Anthropology and the Environmental Humanities, it explores the nexus of infrastructure development, local ecologies, and China’s “green” framing of its global ambitions.

Website Environing Infrastructure

London Central Asia Research Network

London Central Asia Research Network is a London-UK based group of friends, who have collaborated on academic workshops and linked social events for a decade. It is an informal peer-to-peer research network that aims to showcase early career researchers working on Central Asia and its wider region.


    • Connect early career researchers and PhD students with eminent scholars and practitioners through annual London-based thematic workshops and webinars.
    • Promote rigorous interdisciplinary and broad-ranging scholarship with a strong application of theory and methodologies, showcasing Central Asian themes to the broader academic community.
    • Contribute to academic capacity building in Central Asia and support economic development, social well-being and environmental justice agendas in the region.


Roadsides is a collaborative online publishing platform designed to be a forum devoted to exploring the social life of infrastructure. Roadsides is something between a blog, a working paper series, and a scrapbook of things, sounds, and images. We understand the title Roadsides as a metaphorical proxy for all sorts of engagements arising alongside roads, rail tracks, pipelines, border fences, airports, houses, dams, and other kinds of infrastructure as they are imagined, contested, constructed, and maintained, and as they fall into disrepair. The platform will offer space for reflection, for engaging in conversation with others, and a place to test new ideas before developing them into full-length articles and books.

Website Roadsides

TRANSECT – Agrarian Transformation and Social-Ecological Complexities: Local Bioeconomy Scenarios in Central and South Asia

Photo: Henryk Alff

The junior research group TRANSECT (2019-2024) at Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development (HNEE), Germany, investigates the social-ecological effects and interdependencies of agrarian transformations and bioeconomy developments in Central and South Asia. Bioeconomy – or bio-based economy – is understood as comprehensive utilisation of agrarian and other renewable biological resources to secure food, industrial production, and bioenergy. Focusing on case studies in Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, which have been subjected to vast agricultural interventions in the past, the research also draws attention to the current and future growth of China’s bioeconomy sector and its repercussions for neighbouring countries. Particularly infrastructural development framed in the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ are expected to shape future agricultural developments in the region. In the face of these changes, the research group provides in-depth analyses of local effects, opportunities and risks of agricultural intensification and other transformation pathways. Based on an in-depth understanding of past developments, we evaluate possible trajectories towards a bioeconomy in the agrarian sector. Furthermore, we aim to generate a practice-oriented, integrative and participatory methodology in order to develop policy scenarios towards more socially just and ecologically sustainable bioeconomy pathways.


Remoteness & Connectivity: Highland Asia in the World

Photo: Martin Saxer

Remoteness & Connectivity: Highland Asia in the World is a five-year research project (2015-2020) funded by the European Research Council. It is carried out by a team of researchers based at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany. Our terrain of inquiry are the highland areas between the Pamirian Knot and the eastern slopes of the Himalayas. These areas are of global concern. What happens in the highlands of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Kashmir, Tibet, Myanmar, or Northeast India has a worldwide impact. Rich in natural resources and crisscrossed by the borders of rising Asian powers, a multitude of stakes and analytic positions are attached to these frontiers; they are alternatively seen as realms of authentic culture, as rural peripheries in need of development, and as trafficking routes and sanctuaries for insurgents. Public imaginaries oscillate between such simplistic assessments and local communities continue to feel misunderstood. Our starting hypothesis is that remoteness and connectivity constitute each other in particular ways. Our aim is to analyse this nexus of remoteness and connectivity and thereby lay the groundwork for a new apprehension of the role and position of remote frontiers in general.

Website Highland Asia

China Made: Asian Infrastructures and the ‘China Model’ of Development

Photo: Alessandro Rippa

Over the past decade, China has invested tremendously in infrastructure development, resulting in dramatic social and cultural changes in both rural and urban regions. It has also promoted an infrastructural development model beyond its borders as part of a newly aggressive foreign policy. China Made is a partnership between the Center for Asian Studies (CAS) at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Hong Kong Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Hong Kong (HKIHSS), and is supported by an Asian Responsive Grant from The Henry Luce Foundation. China Made will explore both the domestic and international dimension of China’s infrastructure development. The project is also meant to shift the academic focus from broader geopolitical and international relations perspectives to a finer grained analysis of the infrastructures themselves and the on-the-ground social and cultural dimensions of their construction. It will involve three academic conferences – two hosted by CAS and one hosted by HKIHSS – postdoctoral and graduate research positions, and the development of online scholarly resources for project participants and the broader academic community.

Website China Made

Configurations of “Remoteness” (CoRe) – Entanglements of Humans and Transportation Infrastructure in the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) Region

Photo: Peter Schweitzer

Configurations of “Remoteness” (CoRe) – Entanglements of Humans and Transportation Infrastructure in the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) Region is a research project (2015-2020) based at the Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Vienna and funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF [P 27625 Einzelprojekte]Project leader Peter Schweitzer and team members Olga Povoroznyuk, Gertrude Saxinger, Alexis Sancho-Reinoso and Sigrid Schiesser, in cooperation with local researchers and institutions, investigate the effects of the railroad built in the late Soviet period in Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East. The research conducted among different population groups, including indigenous people, Soviet settlers and recent migrants, aims to inquire who are the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers’ of infrastructural development in a long-term historical perspective. Our key research question is: Given the technosocial entanglement of people and infrastructure, how do changes in remote transportation systems affect human sociality and mobility? The project consists of three distinct social anthropology components and one integration geography component. It employs a mixed methods approach and combines ethnographic fieldwork with a macro-scale analysis of population dynamics and mobility patterns in order to draw a comprehensive picture of the social change along the BAM.

Website CoRe

The CoRe research results are also disseminated on the popular science web portal “Life of BAM

Infrastructures of Democracy: State Building as Everyday Practice in Nepal’s Agrarian Districts

Photo: tba

Infrastructures of Democracy: State Building as Everyday Practice in Nepal’s Agrarian Districts, is a research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The project is comprised of several nested scales of collaboration. Core research teams are based at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia (co-PIs and affiliated doctoral students) and at the Martin Chautari Research and Policy Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal (Research Fellow and Tribhuvan University doctoral students). One to two peer researchers participate from three district-scale research sites in Nepal. Launched in 2015, Infrastructures of Democracy employs comparative ethnographic methods and deliberative public engagement to explore how people enact and participate in ‘democracy’ in contexts of governmental transition. Following the end of a decade-long civil conflict, local institutions emerged as key sites of on-going struggle over democratic futures in Nepal. In a country characterized by challenging topographies and smallholder agrarian livelihoods it is unsurprising that many of those struggles are waged around the governance of infrastructure development.

Through a focus on infrastructure governance, the research explores how everyday practices at the sub-national scale constitute state building, and how they enable or constrain transformative social change. “Infrastructures of Democracy’ references the contested physical infrastructures (especially the project’s topical focus on rural roads), as well as the social infrastructures through which governance transpires and aspirations for democracy are pursued. In so doing, the research engages with the interdisciplinary literatures on the ‘politics and poetics of infrastructure’ and on the governmentality and cultural politics of development.

Website Infrastructures of Democracy

Gobi Framework: Mediation Model for Sustainable Infrastructure Development

Photo: tba

The Gobi Framework project develops a model for sustainable infrastructure development to promote inclusive economic development and social welfare in the context of Chinese mega infrastructure initiatives in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. While large-scale infrastructure projects represent a key mechanism of economic growth and development, they also bring unintended and negative consequences to local populations and environments. These challenges can be compounded by specific regional contexts. This is the case in contemporary Asia where China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is set to transform societies, economies and landscapes through infrastructure megaprojects. The speed and scale of Chinese investments present particular social and environmental challenges to China’s neighbouring states. This results in the need to foster trust, transparency and cooperation between stakeholders to maintain social cohesion and ensure inclusive economic development.

This project addresses these needs by scaling up a pioneering dispute resolution model developed in Mongolia’s mining sector. Based on this local participation and stakeholder engagement experience in Mongolia, the Gobi Framework will be replicable, scalable and applicable to other contexts and countries anticipating large-scale investment in infrastructure. The community-based success shows the potential to scale up Mongolia’s example into a replicable model in Central Asia. Developed through a mixed-methods and participatory action approach, the project advances understanding of infrastructure-induced transformations, encourages effective local business engagement and stresses capacity building for development of more inclusive and robust institutional, legal and regulatory frameworks.

Website Gobi Framework