13 Aug 2018

Hyper-Structure: Re-thinking Large-Scale Infrastructure Development in Highland Asian Borderlands

Paper at the Asian Borderlands Research Network Conference, Bishkek, 13-15 August 2018

Alessandro Rippa, Galen Murton, Matthäus Rest


Infrastructures are back. From the 2016 US Presidential elections to China’s growing overseas investments, promises of infrastructure development are often at the forefront of political debates across the globe. The borderlands of Highland Asia have been for decades at the centre of ambitious infrastructure projects and speculations. From the Soviet construction of roads and airports in the Pamirs, to India’s substantive investment in hydropower development, large-scale projects are not new. However, the scale and ambitions of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)/One Belt One Road (OBOR) promises a dramatic departure from earlier interventions. Therefore, an analysis of a number of large-scale projects (ongoing and planned) in the region is not only timely, but also offers a critical point of entry for a more grounded analysis of BRI/OBOR. Through a close reading of the literature and extensive fieldwork experiences in northern Nepal, the Tibet Autonomous Region, Xinjiang and Yunnan, in this presentation we argue that rather than distinct infra-structures or super-structures, the big, new material infrastructures that are dreamed of, planned and constructed across the highlands of Asia can be better conceptualized as hyper-structures. What marks hyperstructures as distinctly different from other everyday infrastructure is, we argue, a scale and symbolism that often exceeds their economic rationality. Hyperstructures in Highland Asia are driven by something more than economic interests, and their conspicuousness rather reflects the coming together of different motivations and claims.

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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