14 Nov 2018

Hyperstructures: Rethinking Large-Scale Infrastructure in Highland Asian Borderlands

Talk delivered at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Galen Murton


The borderlands of Highland Asia have been for decades at the center 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) 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 the BRI. Through a close reading of the literature and extensive fieldwork experiences in northern Nepal, the Tibet Autonomous Region, Xinjiang and Yunnan, my co-authors and I 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 that further complicate understandings of international and South-South development in the 21st century.

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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