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Social infrastructures at the margins: Borderland places, regulations, and institutions between China and Nepal

Authors: Nadine Plachta*, South Asia Institute
Topics: Political Geography, Asia
Keywords: Infrastructure, Borders, Law, Development, Nepal, China
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In recent decades, targeted development support has transformed the lives of Nepal’s northern borderland communities. Bilateral agreements between the Nepalese and Chinese governments specifying economic cooperation and financial assistance have facilitated the building of roads and transport corridors to expand commerce, while hydropower projects and cross-border transmission lines are planned and imagined as expedient technological solutions for driving economic growth. The increased Chinese commitment to infrastructural advancement and connectivity has led to the emergence of development zones across northern Nepal, some branded as special economic zones and others considered informal spaces of production. The borderland is of strategic value, and governing it has become central for the state-building projects of both China and Nepal. It requires laws and special regulations for investment, economic production, resource management, and the movement of people and goods, as security concerns remain high and state control and feelings of belonging are in sharp relief with one another.

The infrastructural transitions and reorientations in northern Nepal raise several key concerns this presentation seeks to interrogate. Focusing on the social dimension of infrastructure (Graham 2010, Kooy and Bakker 2008, Simone 2004), it asks: How do new laws and regulations subvert social institutions and reframe agency, power, and the politics of community involvement? Based on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork among the Tsum community in Gorkha district, I consider how Nepal’s northern borderlands have become productive spaces at the geographical margins, but are also imbued with frictions and conflicting interests.

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