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 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!




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.