In this talk, I suggest the notion of curation as a way to think about large scale development schemes in the highlands of Asia. Curation, in this context, has nothing to do with the work of a museum curator, it rather takes the term in its original meaning of curare – to cure. On the one hand, to cure means to heal, to remedy, to make better. On the other hand, to cure also means to cleanse or to preserve, in the sense of preventing a raw substance from rotting and infecting its surroundings. Curational interventions, I argue, aim at rendering ideology (broadly understood) into experience by creating environments conducive to this end. My use of the term curation does not depict state interventions and development schemes in the rosy language of their “public transcripts”, as James Scott would say. The stories to tell are neither nice nor rosy. A curational intervention is not devoid of power; it is itself a relation of power.
I take the idea of curation – the product of collective thinking in a series of workshops on materiality and connectivity at LMU Munich – to revisit my own research in Tibet, Nepal and Tajikistan over the past decade. The cases and stories I follow include Soviet provisioning of the Pamirs, the ongoing Chinese projects of heritage making and building socialist new villages, and the “landscape approach” adopted by a Kathmandu based development organisation.