Infrastructural imaginaries: Chinese investments and Nepal’s development dreams

Authors: Galen Murton*, James Madison University
Topics: Development, Political Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Infrastructure, Roads, Development, Geopolitics, Borders, China, Nepal, Tibet, Himalaya
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Bacchus, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Rural road developments accelerate and complicate interactions between highland populations, global capital, and state institutions across Asian borderlands. In Nepal, the development of large-scale transportation infrastructure has reached unprecedented levels, and Chinese interventions under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) continues to fuel Kathmandu’s development imaginary, popularly articulated as bikas (or development) in both physical and ideological terms. For both urban and rural populations across Nepal, these development dreams include visions of railways extending from the Tibetan Plateau to the plains of India and a functional and border-crossing transportation system identified as Nepal’s Strategic Road Network. Drawing on data generated by multi-sited, inter-area ethnographic fieldwork in northern Nepal and the Tibetan Plateau and utilizing a conceptual framework of mobility and containment, this study argues that trans-local experiences with new transport systems both realign and reinforce social and economic relations across Himalayan landscapes and undergird material practices that produce space for the Nepali and Chinese states to take shape in historically ‘remote’ and highland areas. By examining the production, negotiation, and institutionalization of road networks and border regimes between Nepal’s Mustang and Rasuwa Districts and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, I illustrate how socio-cultural and political economic dynamics across highland territories disrupt center-periphery binaries and constitute new experiences with borderland modernity in Asia today.

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