Critical Perspectives on Chinese Infrastructures

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Critical Perspectives on Chinese Infrastructures
Stream: Anthropology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Timothy Oakes, University of Colorado Boulder, United States (discussant)
Thorben Pelzer, Leipzig University, Germany (presenter)
Bo Wang, University of Lausanne, Switzerland (presenter)
Goeun Lee, University of Kentucky, United States (presenter, co-organizer, co-chair)
Leif Johnson, University of Kentucky, United States (presenter, co-organizer, co-chair)

Alongside recent work that has attempted to bring the broader “infrastructure turn” in the social sciences into deeper contact with work in China studies (see Oakes 2019), this session brings together scholars employing a variety of critical perspectives on Chinese infrastructures. The papers gathered in this session follow other infrastructure research in asking how (and who and where) people come into contact with the various infrastructural systems that move things and people through urban and rural China, how everyday life is shaped by the modernist promises of infrastructure (Anand, Gupta, and Appel 2018), and what nationalist visions of infrastructure (Barker 2005) are generated in the context of China as the “paradigmatic infrastructural state” (Bach 2016). Panelists contributions range from ethnographic analysis of technological cultures surrounding waste disposal, to the historical and contemporary backgrounds that shape decisions taken by infrastructure engineers, to the interplay of capital and labor that goes into the construction of infrastructure itself. Methodologically, participants have employed ethnographic, discursive and archival approaches to critically analyze infrastructural projects that include transportation, communications, and waste disposal. Theoretically, while the papers collected here make arguments using diverse frameworks from political economy to politics of ethnicity and gender, they are united in their focus on the social inputs and implications of infrastructure as the set of material arrangements that enable things to move (Larkin, 2013).