Negotiating Chinese Infrastructures of Modern Mobilities: Insights from Southeast Asia




Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China-Backed Infrastructure, Development, Mobility, Southeast Asia


Since the launch of the BRI, particular modes of movement are integral to its vision of what it means to be a modern world citizen. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Southeast Asia, where China-backed infrastructure projects expand, and at great speed. Such infrastructure projects are carriers of particular versions of modernity, promising rapid mobility to populations better connected than ever before. Yet, until now, little attention has been paid to how mobility and promises of mobility intersect with local understandings of development. In the introduction to this special issue, we argue that it is essential to think about the role infrastructure plays in forms of development that place connectivity at the center. We suggest that considering development, mobility and modernity together is enlightening because it interrogates the connections between these interlocking themes. Through an introduction to five ethnographically grounded papers and two commentaries, all of which engage with infrastructures in different contexts throughout Southeast Asia, we demonstrate that there are significant gaps between official policy and lived experience. This makes the need to interrogate what infrastructure, mobilities, and global China really mean all the more pressing

Author Biographies

Simon Rowedder, University of Passau

Simon Rowedder is Assistant Professor at the Chair of Development Politics at the University of Passau. He is the author of Cross-Border Traders in Northern Laos: Mastering Smallness published in 2022 with Amsterdam University Press. His research interests lie in economic anthropology, border studies and development studies with focus on Sino-Southeast Asian borderlands (especially Yunnan, Laos and Thailand).

Phill Wilcox, Bielefeld University

Phill Wilcox is a research associate at Bielefeld University. She is the author of Heritage and the Making of Contemporary Laos: The Past and Present of the Lao Nation published in 2021 with Amsterdam University Press, and her current research interests focus on China as a driver of development in the global South.

Susanne Brandtstädter, University of Cologne

Susanne Brandtstädter is a China anthropologist and holds a Chair in the Anthropology of Globalization at the University of Cologne. She has undertaken long-term ethnographic fieldwork in both China and Taiwan and is developing new research on Chinese diasporas in Highland Asia. Her thematic interests are the emerging world of global China; value and values; justice, ethics, and moral economies; kinship, gender, and social life; labor, skills, and economic infrastructures; and dynamics of change.


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