Building Highland Asia

A special issue of “The Highlander”.

by Galen Murton, Matthäus Rest, Alessandro Rippa

On the Karakoram Highway. © 2014 Alessandro Rippa


In a landmark article Edwin Ardener argues that “remote areas are obsessed with communications” (2012 [1987]: 528). Such statement remains valid today in the highlands of Asia, where infrastructural projects are often the sites of intense debates, expectations, and troubling anxieties. In order to address these concerns, we propose a special issue of The Highlander, focusing on two particular kinds of infrastructures, roads and hydropower projects respectively. Whereas roads are central to livelihood and mobility in the highlands, hydropower has become one of the most controversial issues debated by local communities, central and local governments, multinational corporations, transnational environmental groups, and other constituents. As India, China, and Russia forge new economic and diplomatic relations across their frontiers and new actors interested in the region emerge, the expansion of road networks and hydropower facilities alike generate new patterns of capital accumulation, trade relations, state formation, and political resistance across the borderlands of Highland Asia. Both cases link local expectations with transnational interests and show once again the nexus of remoteness and connectivity that seems to characterise many highland communities. In order to properly address those issues in both their complexity and variety of cases, the special issue will resort to an innovative structure. It will comprise two forms of contribution: Six full-length research articles based on original research, theoretically grounded that reflect the state-of-the-art of research on Highland Asia, and a series of photo essays. The special issue will open with a comprehensive full-length article that will review the existing literature and conceptual frameworks for the study of infrastructure in Highland Asia and explore potential new directions for future research.

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