This article, co-authored by Zarina Urmanbetova and Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi, was published in September 2021 in Central Asian Survey. It is part of the special issue “Technology, Temporality, and the Study of Central Asia” edited by Jonas van der Straeten and Julia Obertreis.

This is the link to the journal’s website:

If you’d like to receive a pdf copy of the article, please email Zarina at:

In this article we discuss how infrastructural connections – here the ‘northbound’ and ‘southbound’ sections of a transregional road crossing the mountainous district of Toghuz-Toro in central Kyrgyzstan – become sites where identities can be either confirmed or contested. Linking this district with places that figure prominently in the symbolic geography of Kyrgyzstan, which divides the country into North and South, the two sections of road are inherently enmeshed in regional identity politics. Further, the article considers how the inhabitants of Toghuz-Toro take care of their own mobility and preserve desired connections in a harsh terrain, in the absence of state-managed public transport, and in a situation that sees only rudimentary road maintenance. It shows that technologies such as mobile Internet, and social media such as Facebook, have engendered a profound transformation in the use of transport infrastructure, breathing new life into journeys along the old, dilapidated post-Soviet roads.


The sixth collection of Roadsides edited by Christina Schwenkel, with Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi as managing editor, has been published in November 2021.

This collection of Roadsides focuses on the sensory dimensions of infrastructure that have yet to be adequately explored and theorized in the literature. The proliferation of scholarship on material infrastructures continues to emphasize the social and the technical over the sensorial, rather than bring these approaches together to study the dense networks that facilitate the provision of goods and resources. This collection seeks to understand the diverse and contingent ways in which we apprehend and make sense of infrastructural worlds through particular modes of sensing.

Read the issue on the Roadsides website.


The fifth collection of Roadsides edited by Alessandro Rippa, with Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi as managing editor, has been published in April 2021.

This issue of Roadsides is concerned with one particular relational aspect of infrastructure that so far has scarcely been explored: the links between infrastructure and archive. The point of departure for this issue is an awareness that the history of the infrastructure that now shapes our lives, as well as of infrastructure that has never been built, lies in particular bodies of texts – documents, images, letters, books, videos and so on. These archives are central to the imagining of infrastructure, to its planning as well to its construction. Yet the relations between concrete infrastructure and such bodies of text are seldom addressed.

In this issue archives are understood in the broadest sense as any collection of documents, stories, reports, notices, banners and placards, photographs, video recordings, sounds, posted bills or rumours – i.e. anything textual (in the term’s widest conception) that represents a writing and a reading of the social worlds created and mediated by infrastructure.

Read the issue on the Roadsides website.


Manche Teile von Kirgistans Aussengrenzen wurden nach Zerfall der Sowjetunion nie definitiv gezogen, im Frühling kam es erneut zu kriegerischen Auseinandersetzungen. Zentraler Streitpunkt ist das Wasser, das in der Region immer knapper wird.

Artikel von Emilia Sulek in der WOZ, Nr. 44, 4. November 2021

The September 2021 issue of the student journal Spectrum published bi-monthly at the University of Fribourg features an article “Chinas Belt and Road Initiative – ein ‘siebenköpfiger Drache’” based on an interview with Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi. Agnieszka discusses in it the elusiveness of the BRI and explains how the ROADWORK research team tries to grasp its workings through ethnographic fieldwork focusing on selected BRI projects.

Many thanks to Corina Dürr from the journal for this enjoyable collaboration.

Link to the September issue:



Labour of Love: An Open Access Manifesto for Freedom, Integrity, and Creativity in the Humanities and Interpretive Social Sciences.

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi and twelve other OA editors and advocates have co-authored “Labour of Love: An Open Access Manifesto for Freedom, Integrity, and Creativity in the Humanities and Interpretive Social Sciences”.

The Manifesto has been published here: and republished in ANUAK:

It can also be downloaded here: PDF

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi, together with James Leibold and Matthew Erie published a blog post “Censorship and Sinology in the Era of Chinese Neo-Authoritarianism” in Asian Currents


Thomas White’s essay “Road Ecology” was published on the Society & Space website, as part of the forum Ecologizing Infrastructure: Infrastructural Ecologies

Max D. Woodworth and Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi co-authored this Introduction to the special issue which was published in February in Eurasian Geography and Economics.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

China’s borderlands are an apposite setting to explore how vigorous efforts to drive continental integration are remaking border practices, reconfiguring material spaces at and near borders, and transforming existing social relations and patterns of movement. The BRI signals a significant change, as borderlands are expected to become important interfaces between China and the rest of the Eurasian landmass. Chinese borderlands are now treated as dynamic commercial spaces through which surging flows of manufactured goods and raw materials are expected to pass. A series of newly constructed border zone transshipment sites, like the Khorgos Special Economic Zone at the China–Kazakhstan border, illustrates the urge to refashion borders into spaces of connection and flow, and to rebrand China as an infrastructural powerhouse and commercial hub.

These efforts to stimulate cross-border flows and refashion China’s borderlands have been interpreted in many quarters as a sign of a monolithic “China” arising on the world stage and remaking the landscape of global capitalism. Yet, … such reductionist understandings are not … incomplete for their inability to capture the heterogeneity of the Chinese state and Chinese capital… What is needed are grounded, ethnographic studies that reveal the multiplicities of actors, contexts and a multiplicity of planned and also unplanned effects that are part and parcel of the BRI, just as they were for the earlier state-led development programs in borderlands.


The fourth collection of Roadsides, edited by Madlen Kobi and Nadine Plachta, with Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi as managing editor, has been published in October 2020.

Drawing on emerging conversations between architects, urban planners, geographers, and anthropologists, this issue of Roadsides call for a perspective on contemporary cities that interrogates how architecture and urban design function as and with infrastructure. Architecture and infrastructure come together through social practices and material networks: pipes leading from and to buildings provide water and sewage solutions; the installation of solar and energy storage systems power electricity grids; wires and fiber optic cables enable heating and cooling facilities, sustainable lighting, and high-speed internet; and integrated mobility systems connect houses and recreation areas to underground car parks, vehicle sharing services, metro networks, railways, and other public modes of transportation. In all such cases, repair and maintenance are essential to avoid failure and keep modern forms of living alive. Looking beyond the discrete infrastructural systems that underlie cities, this issue examines the social and political practices that shape urban architecture.

Read the issue on the Roadsides website.

The third collection of Roadsides, edited by Christine Bichsel and with Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi as managing editor, aims to bring into conversation two fields of the social sciences: the emerging social sciences of outer space, and recent social science research on infrastructure. It seeks to explore how insights from the “infrastructural turn” in the social sciences can advance scholarship of outer space, and vice versa.

Existing research in geography, social anthropology and sociology repeatedly stresses the importance of understanding Earth and outer space in relational terms and as mutually constitutive politically, psychologically, philosophically, methodologically and ethically. Hence, this collection seeks to address the following question: How does the conceptual and empirical focus on infrastructure advance our understanding of the cultural, political and economic relationality of outer space?

Read the articles on the Roadsides website.

Special issue edited by Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi and Max Woodworth was published in Eurasian Geography and Economics.


China’s borderlands have received increased investment and policy attention since Beijing formally launched the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. This special issue, comprised of four research articles and a photo essay, is designed to provide a timely intervention into the growing literature seeking to situate and assess this important policy campaign.

Drawing on extended ethnographic fieldwork in China’s southwestern, northwestern, and northern borderlands, the contributing authors analyze recent borderland transformations against the backdrop of the BRI. However, by shifting the analytical focus to prioritize voices and events in borderlands, the papers de-center Beijing-centric discourse on the BRI, and provide urgent reminders of region-specific geographies and histories.

Matthäus Rest and Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi co-edited an 8-day long thematic thread #Roadsides in the creative space of the fantastic! Enjoy the published articles, reflections and a very cool multimedia story here:

Kudos to the Allegra team for being enthusiastic, supportive and wonderfully uncomplicated!


Schnellstrassen sind nicht nur bequeme Verkehrswege. Mitunter zerschneiden sie Lebensräume, benachteiligen Menschen und wecken falsche Hoffnungen. Ein Team von Sozialanthropologen untersucht Chinas gigantisches Silk-Road-Projekt.

Artikel im UZHmagazin 4/20 mit Text von Michael T. Ganz und Bildern von Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi

On 3 September, Central Asian Analytical Network (CAAN) published, in Russian, Zarina’s interview with project leader Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi on infrastructural projects in Central Asia and how anthropological research could help understand the impacts of new infrastructure projects in the region. CAAN is an integrated platform designed to increase Central Asian citizens’ access to objective information and sophisticated analysis. It provides reportage and discussion in Russian and in the national languages of Central Asia on domestic and global affairs. The Network connects various communities of producers of information and analysis – professional journalists, social activists, bloggers, experts and scholars – the network that has been built up in the region over the last two decades.

CAAN is run by a team of young but experienced media activists and experts based in each country of the region. The Network also has a representative in Moscow, covering the large Russian community of Central Asian migrants.




Article by Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi was published Open Access in Political Geography.

Download a pdf copy of the article directly from the journal’s website here:, or visit Agnieszka’s profile atüthi

The article is a part of the special issue on China’s Belt and Road Initiative edited by G. Oliveira, G. Murton, A. Rippa, T. Harlan and Y. Yang.

Too view all the published articles go to:


In 2013, President Xi Jinping formulated China’s vision of Eurasian connectivity: The Silk Road Economic Belt. The strategy envisages the construction of infrastructure networks that will enmesh the Eurasian continent and form an interconnected space of exchange. Since the plan was announced, the Economic Belt has attracted much academic and media attention in terms of the infrastructure being built and its future potentialities. At the same time, questions about the sustainability of this infrastructure in a dynamic Sino–Inner Asian borderland, with its highly fluid terrain and socio-political geography, have been virtually absent from the debate.

The inevitable decay, maintenance and social ambiguity surrounding transport infrastructure lack the appeal associated with new construction projects; yet, discussing them is crucial in the context of mega initiatives such as the Economic Belt. It is important to bring it back ‘down to the ground’ and into more mundane terms. By zooming in on a single desert road in northwest China that has been designated as a crucial conduit in the westward arc of the Economic Belt, this article draws attention to the social complexity and ecological vulnerability of transport infrastructure in the Sino–Inner Asian borderlands.

At one scale, this infrastructure is part of China’s vision of globalization; at another scale, however, it is firmly embedded in local contexts. By pushing the political, ecological and material complexity of road maintenance to the centre of our inquiry, the article offers a new perspective on the current construction boom and its sustainability.

This article by Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi was published in the inaugural issue of Roadsides, an Open Access journal devoted to exploring the social, cultural and political life of infrastructure.


Excerpt from the introduction: 

Infrastructure engages time, and vice versa, in countless ways. Thinking infrastructures as “complicated pleated arrangements,” extensive, even if inconsistent, “fractal” orders (Harvey, Jensen and Morita 2017: 13) and as an aspirationally planetary system, draws attention to temporalities related to the systemic quality of infrastructure. This systemic quality underpins the role that infrastructure has been given in the linear temporalities of the modernization theory, progressivist historiography and various colonial projects (Bowker 2015). 

A different perspective, in which a road or a dam is not a module or “eye” in a chain of infrastructural links, but a specific place – a lifeworld – redirects the spotlight to a plethora of other temporalities which are specific to the environment and the social-political terrain in which any road, dam or airport is embedded. In this perspective, each infrastructure is a unique temporal event (Massey 2005: 138-42), that is, the ways in which an infrastructure “is” is contingent on the place and time in which it is embedded.

Published in the edited volume Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough: Ethnographic Responses edited by Francisco Martinez and Patrick Laviolette

Agnieszka’s short chapter on the multiple and conflicting meanings of “maintenance” in northern Xinjiang has just been published in an excellent volume Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough: Ethnographic Responses (New York and Oxford: Berghahn) edited by Francisco Martinez and Patrick Laviolette. To browse the contents of the edited volume go to:

Email Agnieszka ( if you’d like a copy of her chapter.

The essay “Orbital” on the global travels of satellite and rocket debris written by Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi has just been published in Society and Space: It is part of the forum Volumetric Sovereignty edited by Franck Billé. The forum comprises twenty-five contributions divided into five themes: Cartography vs. Volumes, The Subterranean Realm, Turbulence, Bodies and Beyond the Earth. Agnieszka’s essay is part of the Beyond the Earth theme

Check out the whole forum here:



Edited by Galen Murton with Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi as managing editor, this second collection of Roadsides employs artistically rendered depictions of labor to show how infrastructures become political and material things through social relations of work. Aesthetically creative and methodologically experimental, the articles utilize photographs, paintings, cartoons, and videos to examine and reveal the impacts and experiences of technological intervention that sometimes escape the frame of textual analysis. Taking up the challenge of labor across a range of scales and places, the collection moves from Nepal and India’s Himalayan borderlands to the Paraguayan Chaco, downtown London to the deserts of Sudan, and urban Sri Lanka to Afghanistan’s Wakhan highlands to illustrate many of the inevitable cracks in the dreams of infrastructural pasts and futures.

Read the articles on the Roadsides website.

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi is one of the founding editors of the new Open Access journal Roadsides designed to be a forum devoted to exploring the social life of infrastructure. The first beautifully-designed issue titled “Infrastructural Times” was edited by Agnieszka and published in March 2019 on the Roadsides website.

The first collection also contains an introductory article written by Agnieszka titled “Infrastructure as an Asynchronic Timescape


Zarina Urmanbetova’s podcast channel on social/cultural anthropology, urban and memory studies in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. Listen to the last three episodes…


Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi’s commissioned review essay on three edited volumes published recently in the field of infrastructure studies – The Promise of Infrastructure edited by H. Appel, N. Anand and A. Gupta, Repair Work Ethnographies: Revisiting Breakdown, Relocating Materiality edited by I. Strebel, A. Bovet and P. Sormani, and Infrastructure, Environment, and Life in the Anthropocene, edited by K. Hetherington – was published in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology.

Email Agnieszka ( if you’d like a pdf copy of the article.

Joniak-Lüthi, Agnieszka. 2019. Commissioned review of “What is China? Territory, Ethnicity, Culture, and History” (by Ge Zhaoguang 2018). China Review International 24 (1): 21-24.



Joniak-Lüthi, Agnieszka. 2018. Ethnicity and the Han. In: Tim Wright (ed.). Oxford Bibliographies Online:Chinese Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

The article focuses on the Han in the People’s Republic of China where they constitute the largest of the fifty-six state-recognized population categories referred in Chinese as minzu. Well into the 1990s, the official English-language translation of the term minzu was “nationality”—a direct reference to the Soviet nationality policy which was one of the major influences in the formulation of the Communist minzu policy. Recently, however, minzu has been increasingly often rendered in official documents as “ethnic group,” arguably in an attempt to do away with the national connotation of the term and to discursively distance China’s minzu model from the Soviet Union which disintegrated along the borders of nationality republics in 1991.

Although Han are popularly referred to as an “ethnic group” not only in the official discourse in China but also in the Western media and in numerous academic publications, ethnicity and minzu classification are not equivalents: Minzucategorization is only a part of much more complex processes of ethnicity in China. With regard to the Han, the identification as Hanzu (i.e., members of the Han minzu) is only one among a number of collective identities between which Han individuals switch in social interactions and which can all be situationally performed as ethnic. Moreover, the Han identity remains in an opaque relationship with such signifiers like Hua or Zhongguoren rendered in English as “Chinese.” Though nominally indicating citizenship shared by all the fifty-six minzu, in practice, even in academic publications, “Chinese” and “Han” are often used as synonyms. Hence, discussion of the contemporary Han must not only include ethnicity and minzu classification, but also other racial and national meanings that this collective identity has been ascribed in 20th-century China.


Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi’s review of Till Mostowlansky’s book (University of Pittsburg Press, 2017) was published in Europe-Asia Studies.

Joniak-Lüthi, A. 2018. Commissioned review of “Ethnicity in China” (by Xiaowei Zang 2015). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24 (2): 648-49.