13 Aug 2018

Liquid Undercurrents: Infrastructure and the Border Lives of Fuel, Water, and Cash

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

Galen Murton

Abstract and Outline

Convenor and chair: Galen Murton, James Madison University, United States

Infrastructure has emerged as a major theme in borderland studies. The current frenzy of road and hydropower construction, often in relation to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI/OBOR), is rapidly reshaping Asian borderlands. While a main focus of analysis often examines how anticipation, planning and building of infrastructures affects lives and relations in the borderlands (Sidaway and Woon 2017), the liquid undercurrents that drive these processes – such as gaz, diesel, water, and cash – remain hidden and less understood. While these fuels and their circulations are widely discussed in more geopolitical and policy-oriented conversations, more grounded analyses reveal the everyday ways in which infrastructures require and control particular flows of fuels and how these material movements navigate, accumulate at, and pass through borders. Damming water on one side of a border raises red flags in neighbouring countries downstream, as India’s concern for China’s hydropower projects exemplifies; hydrocarbons are also strategic resource that doesn’t cross borders easily, as the recent blockade of fuel at the Nepal-India border shows (Rinck and Adhikari 2016). Water and petroleum as well as capital financing are also necessary for the construction and operation of infrastructures, and thus a closer look at the flows of these liquid undercurrents reveals the often hidden and overlooked - or infra - components of infrastructural assemblages themselves. This panel suggests that the material presence and practical relevance of these liquid undercurrents have curiously remained under-examined in wider debates on the entanglements of borderland lives and infrastructural interventions. This is especially true with respect to the large scale and discursively powerful new development projects expanding across the Asian borderlands under new BRI/OBOR initiatives. In an effort to illuminate new understandings of the liquid undercurrents of infrastructure in politically sensitive spaces, this panel examines the practicalities of channeling and controlling fuel, water, and money across Asia’s borderlands. Papers will analyze the provisioning and smuggling of gaz and diesel in border areas, the local and national contestations over international flows and ‘ownership’ or water and the electricities produced by particular hydro-actions, and the reconfiguration and volatility of upstream-downstream dynamics with respect to accumulation, possession, and corruption on a more ‘localized geopolitical’ scale (O’Tuathail 2010). Together, contributors will put place-based and materially- rich analysis into conversation with wider debates on infrastructure development across Asian borderlands in order to illuminate liquid resources as the undercurrents that both drive revivals and create ruins once they run dry.

The Turbulent Interface: Borderland Flows and the Politics of Energy Security in Nepal Austin Lord, Cornell University, United States

Money, Illegal banks, and Authorities: The Exchange and Flow of Money in Tachilek at the Myanmar-Thailand Border Yi Yang, East China Normal University, China

Petty Petrol Politics: Geopolitics, Reconstruction, and the Everyday Struggle for Fuel in Post-Earthquake Nepal Galen Murton, James Madison University, United States

A ‘Green’ Belt and Road? Small Hydropower and Large Dams on China’s South-Western Borderlands Tyler Harlan, Cornell University, United States

Contact:
Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany

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