Agnieszka is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Fribourg  and head of the ROADWORK project. She graduated in China Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland and completed her PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Bern, Switzerland. She has held research positions and taught Anthropology, China Studies and Central Asian Studies at her alma mater, and at the universities of Bern, St Gallen, Zurich and Fribourg in Switzerland, LMU Munich in Germany and Xinjiang University in China. She has also been a visiting scholar at the University of Washington, Oslo University and the University of Cambridge.

Agnieszka’s regional expertise centers on the People’s Republic of China and the Sino–Central Asian borderlands. She has spent more than four years studying and conducting research in China, first in the lush southwest, then in the megalopolises of Beijing and Shanghai, and since 2011 in the arid northwest. Her recent research explores the nexus of transport infrastructure, settler colonialism and processes of state territorialization there.

For ROADWORK, Agnieszka continues her research in northwest China but also expands her field into neighbouring regions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. She focuses on the challenges of infrastructure maintenance in the fluid landscape of the Sino–Central Asian borderlands, and on how temporalities of materials, investment, discourses, government agendas, ecosystems and humans affect the social life of infrastructures in this part of Asia.


Thomas WHITE

Thomas received his PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge in 2016. His forthcoming monograph, based on his PhD research, explores the changing role of nonhuman life in the political ecology of western Inner Mongolia, China. As part of the ROADWORK team, Thomas is interested in the effects of infrastructural development on the lives of pastoralists both in China and across the border in Mongolia.


Zarina is a social anthropologist from Kyrgyzstan. She received her BA from the Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University in Bishkek and her MA in Social Anthropology from Hacettepe University in Turkey. After completing her studies, Zarina returned to Kyrgyzstan where she has worked since as a researcher on various projects conducted by such organizations as UN Women Kyrgyzstan, the foundation Urban Initiatives, Research Institute of Islamic Studies in Bishkek, and Analytical Center Polis Asia. She has always been interested in religious practices, identity, ethnicity, feminism/gender and urban studies.

Zarina is the PhD student in the ROADWORK team. She focuses on the social and cultural life of roads in central Kyrgyzstan where she has conducted seven months of ethnographic fieldwork in 2019-2020. She returned to her field for another five months in spring 2021.


Emilia Róża SUŁEK

Emilia loves nothing more than to hit the road. So, it is only natural that she should consider roads themselves in her current postdoc project. She lived with Tibetan nomads in one of China’s most inaccessible areas to study the vibrant trade of caterpillar fungus, colloquially known as “Himalayan Viagra”. Her research resulted in a well-received book, Trading Caterpillar Fungus in Tibet: When Economic Boom Hits Rural Area, published by Amsterdam University Press. 

Bringing remote areas into focus, Emilia likes to engage with places at the margin. For her postdoc she will set out for the Kazakh–Kyrgyz border to look at the impact of infrastructure development on the local populations. Enthralled by stories about the illicit donkey trade, she will follow their tracks that lead to the Chinese pharmaceutical industry. 

Emilia’s expertise is founded on training in social anthropology and Oriental Studies at the University of Warsaw and a PhD in Central Asian Studies from Humboldt University, Berlin. She has affiliations with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the Minzu University of China and the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden, the Netherlands. Grants from the China and Inner Asia Council as well as the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation attest to her high-quality research. 

As an academic specialist on shadow economies, politics of international development, natural resource conflicts, and processes of state-making, Emilia contributes cutting-edge research. As a journalist, she helps form public opinion. Her texts aim at a broad audience and bring in critical anthropological perspectives to explain everyday phenomena. She writes in English, German and Polish.      

Verena LA MELA

Verena studied Cultural Anthropology, Modern Sinology and Modern Indology at Ruprecht-Karls-University in Heidelberg, Germany. During her studies, she spent three semesters abroad at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and at Shanghai International Studies University and Yunnan University in the People’s Republic of China. In her doctoral project at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany, Verena focused on trade, infrastructure, social networks, kin relationships and social change in southeastern Kazakhstan. For her dissertation, she has conducted sixteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in the region neighbouring Khorgos, the main border crossing between China and Kazakhstan.

Verena focuses on the emerging social, spatial and economic hierarchies generated by infrastructure investment in southeastern Kazakhstan, where one of the key routes in the Silk Road Economic Belt is located.


Eric is Assistant Professor of History and International Affairs at the George Washington University. He previously held a Mellon Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to translate the preeminent Uyghur history of the Uyghur homeland. His recent book, Land of Strangers: The Civilizing Project in Qing Central Asia, won the 2021 John K. Fairbank Prize for East Asian History. Eric previously taught at the University of Montana.
Eric’s research concerns the sociocultural history of China and Inner Asia, with a focus on the Qing through Republican periods in Xinjiang. Eric is also the author of several articles on Chinese Central Asia past and present and a new textbook for learning the Chaghatay language. He received his PhD in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies from Indiana University.
For ROADWORK, Eric explores the changing infrastructure in Xinjiang in the late Qing period, specifically the ways in which merchant houses who followed the Xiang Army into Xinjiang in 1877 influenced the patterns of movement for people, goods and information in the region. Eric and Agnieszka will conduct joint archival research in China in 2021.


Judd is an Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work focuses on the ways that natural resources define and often limit state power in Chinese border regions. His book, Natural Resources and the New Frontier: Constructing Modern China’s Borderlands, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in spring 2018, offers a new material-centered perspective on the development of institutions of state power and authority and the parallel growth in ethnic tensions in China’s far western province of Xinjiang. Using Xinjiang as a case study, this work reveals a new way of thinking about many of China’s border regions. In addition to the book, Judd has published widely on various topics including Han gold prospectors in Xinjiang, steel production in wartime Southwest China, and Soviet geologists in northwest China.

For ROADWORK, Judd focuses on the politics and practicalities of infrastructure building and maintenance in Nationalist-era Xinjiang, and how these influenced the patterns of infrastructure development in the Communist period. During their joint archival research in 2021, Judd and Agnieszka will attempt to learn more about the environmental conditions of earlier travels through northwest China and the ways in which humans engaged with the environment to establish and maintain connectivity in this region in the first half of the twentieth century.


Jessica DI CARLO

Jessica DiCarlo is the Chevalier Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Transportation and Development in China at the University of British Columbia‘s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. She received her PhD in Geography from the University of Colorado Boulder under Dr. Emily Yeh, and holds a Master’s from the University of California Berkeley. In 2019, she was a Global China Research Fellow at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. She was also a research fellow at the University of Bern’s Centre for Development and Environment in Vientiane, Laos.

Jessica’s research focuses on Chinese capital and infrastructure as global drivers of political-economic and environmental change. Her dissertation drew on seventeen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Laos and China, where she examined the construction and planning of the Laos-China railway and related economic zones. She situates her research in critical development studies, political ecology, political and economic geography, and infrastructure studies. She prioritizes long-term, ethnographic fieldwork. In China, she has worked in Yunnan, Liaoning, Tibetan regions, as well as Beijing and Shanghai since 2008. Her interest in Chinese borderlands led her to Nepal, India, and Laos, with past research experiences that span development, disasters, agrarian change, public health, and rural livelihoods. She is currently developing publications and a book project from her dissertation, and in 2022, her co-edited volume entitled The Rise of the Infrastructure State: How US-China Rivalry Shapes Politics and Place Worldwide will be released.

As part of the ROADWORK team, Jessica shares her knowledge on China’s infrastructural engagements in Southeast Asia, to consider what histories are embedded in contemporary infrastructural forms and how Chinese projects are transforming political-economic and social landscapes, specifically along the Laos-China Corridor. Her work reveals how state-society relations are transformed as governments attempt to manage large infrastructure projects, and how the promise of infrastructure motivates transformations in policy and legal codes in countries under pressure from Chinese-backed ‘priority’ projects. 



Hasan H. Karrar is an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), specializing in modern Chinese and Central Asian history and political economy. He works on economic and political configurations in the greater Central Asian region (inclusive of western China and northern Pakistan) since the 1980s. These include informal markets and bazaar networks; economic corridors and ongoing iterations of the Silk Road trope; border regimes and emerging spatial configurations. Within this broad geographical and thematic terrain, Hasan’s research is presently focused on two areas: bazaar trade in Central Asia since the 1980s and evolving border regimes along the Karakoram–Pamir watershed over the last century. Hasan’s recent work has appeared in China Information, Globalizations, Central Asian Survey, Critical Asian Studies and with co-authors in Political Geography, Capitalism, NatureSocialism and Critical Public Health. His earlier research on the development of Sino–Central Asian relations appeared as The New Silk Road Diplomacy: China’s Central Asian Foreign Policy Since the Cold War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2009).

For the ROADWORK team, Hasan shares his knowledge on the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor and the various ways in which China’s infrastructure investment in northern Pakistan is transforming the economic and political landscape of the region.


Till Mostowlansky is an anthropologist of humanitarianism, infrastructure, development and Islam in contemporary Central Asia and at its historical crossroads between Russian, British and Chinese influence.

Till is currently an Ambizione Research Fellow at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. He holds an MA from the University of Vienna and completed his PhD at the University of Bern. Before taking up his position in Geneva, he was a researcher and lecturer at the University of Bern, the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore and the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong.

Till is the author of two monographs and many journal articles. His 2007 book Islam und Kirgisen on Tour: Die Rezeption “nomadischer Religion” und ihre Wirkung [Islam and Kyrgyz on Tour: The Perception of “Nomadic Religion” and its Effects, Harrassowitz] focuses on Islam and nomadic identity in Kyrgyzstan. In 2017, he published his second book Azan on the Moon: Entangling Modernity along Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway (University of Pittsburgh Press), which is situated in the anthropological study of routes, roads and pathways, and the anthropology of infrastructure more generally. His articles have appeared in, among others, Central Asian Survey, Modern Asian Studies, Political Geography and The Muslim World.

In his current book project on Muslim humanitarianism, Till works on the transformative force of Muslim networks that dissect the borderlands of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Tajikistan and mediate connectivity to places across Asia. In the context of this project, he is also researching the significance of Chinese-built infrastructure for these networks, and edits the series MUHUM – Muslim Humanitarianism at Allegra Lab.

In ROADWORK, Till shares with the team his knowledge on China’s infrastructural engagements in Tajikistan and how this newest wave of construction inscribes itself onto an existing landscape of material and figural infrastructures brought about by multiple modernization projects in the region initiated by the Soviet Union, transnational Muslim networks and the young Tajik state.



Galen Murton is Assistant Professor of Geographic Science in the School of Integrated Sciences at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia (USA). He is also a Marie S. Curie fellow in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at LMU Munich (Germany) where he is working on the project ‘Road Diplomacy: International Infrastructure and Ethnography of Geopolitics in 21st Century Asia’. Galen is particularly curious about the ways in which power operates spatially through material things like roads, rails, fences, and dams and primarily studies the processes and effects of these kinds of development dynamics in mountainous border regions of Highland Asia. Galen’s current book project, Infrastructural Power, examines how Nepal receives and leverages international infrastructure investment in order to expand state presence, and how this aid invariably comes with certain strings attached. His research has been published in outlets including The Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Eurasian Geography and Economics, The Journal of South Asia, HIMALAYA: The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies; Cross-Currents and The Denver Post. In addition to teaching courses on cultural geography, development studies, and the history of geography, he also enjoys conducting fieldwork with his students in the mountain ranges of Asia as well as the Americas.

As part of the ROADWORK team, Galen contributes his understanding of the ways in which China operates and is perceived as a central actor in processes of international road and associated infrastructural development in Nepal, Bhutan, and India. Particularly in the context of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative and in view of long-standing geopolitical tension between China and India, the ‘rise of China’ in South Asia merits close attention for better understanding the implications of the so-called ‘China model of development’ as well as shifting paradigms of South-South international aid and other geopolitical and geoeconomic relationships.


Björn Reichhardt is a Social Anthropologist interested in landscapes, boundaries, infrastructure, pastoralism, multispecies ethnography, and more-than-human relationships.

He completed his bachelor’s degree in Human Geography at the Free University of Berlin and his master’s in Central Asian Studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin. During that time, Björn studied the Mongolian cultural region and the Mongolian language in particular.

In his dissertation, Björn focuses on how spatial behaviors and objects such as fences and roads are interwoven with specific human-environment relationships, perceptions of security, and navigating precarious everyday worlds in post-socialist Mongolia. He investigates the historical, social and material conditions from which particular spatial practicesemerge as well as the socio-spatial agency exercised by boundaries, infrastructures, and the liminal spaces they create.

As a researcher at the National University of Mongolia (2016-2017) and at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH, 2017-2021), Björn conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Mongolia. During that time, he began to explore how artisanal dairying is impacted by the interconnectedness between herders, animals, local ecologies and growing infrastructural development. Here, he focuses on processes of fermentation and microbial starter cultures as vital heirlooms of social and economic value for Inner Asian dairy producers.



Annabel is the administrative manager of the ROADWORK project. Contact her directly at if you have any questions relating to logistics or finances.