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  • Call for Papers

Ambivalent Infrastructures

29 April 2019

A number of panel slots are still available for paper contributors. We invite contributions from urban practitioners and scholars from a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. Selected paper contributors will receive partial travel funding to Dimapur, India, in addition to full accommodation during the symposium.

Deadline Call for papers: 29 April 2019

Symposium Dates: 28-30 November 2019
Venue: Dimapur, Nagaland, India

A symposium of the Urban Knowledge Network Asia, jointly organized by:

  • Ambedkar University Delhi: Center for Community Knowledge and School of Global Affairs (AUD, CCK and SGA), Ambedkar, India
  • Hong Kong University, Faculty of Architecture (HKU), Hong Kong, China
  • New York University Shanghai (NYUSH), Shanghai, China
  • International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden, Netherlands
  • Kohima Institute, Nagaland, India
  • Heritage Publishing House, Dimapur, Nagaland, India

Symposium Scope

Large-scale infrastructure projects are materializing at an unprecedented rate across Asia. National road and rail schemes and cross-border corridors are transforming the physical, economic, social and cultural landscapes of the region. Urban centers, large and small, are at the heart of these corridors and networks. Apart from transport links, corridor projects often involve the development of industrial and urban spaces. This connectivity has major consequences for urban areas. Large infrastructure can connect and disconnect, establish new centers and peripheries, and empower as well as displace and uproot millions. It is this power that we characterize as ambivalent: while infrastructure is desired by billions as a physical prerequisite for a better life, its very scale in contemporary Asia can be “spectacular”, in the sense that it can instill a sense of disorientation and placelessness among ordinary people (Aihwa Ong: Hyperbuilding: spectacle, speculation, and the hyperspace of sovereignty, in Worlding cities: Asian experiments and the art of being global, 2011).

The Ambivalent Infrastructures symposium seeks to interpret the functions, meanings and wide-ranging implications for cities and their hinterlands of infrastructure projects across Asia. Fresh thinking is needed about what the infrastructure boom tells us about Asian city-making, nation building, and the place of cities in the global political economy. For more information, please see the symposium concept note.

The best papers will be selected for inclusion in an edited volume, to be published after the symposium in the Asian Cities series of Amsterdam University Press.

Call for papers/presenters

A number of panel slots are available for paper contributors to be recruited through this open call for papers. Selected paper contributors will receive partial travel funding to Dimapur, India, in addition to full accommodation during the symposium.

We invite contributions on the questions below (and related questions) from urban practitioners and scholars from a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. Our focus is on large “critical physical infrastructure” projects, from new towns to interventions in the areas of transport, power, telecommunications (including digital), water supply and sanitation. We are also interested in smart cities, economic corridors and special economic zones as spatial hubs or platforms of infrastructure investments. The geographical focus of the symposium is South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia or West Asia. Comparative papers (illustrating examples from other parts of the world, outside Asia) are accepted, but must refer to contemporary Asian experience.

Guiding questions

  • Is there a precedent for the current infrastructure boom in Asia? Can we make a comparison with the ‘opening-up’ of other regions, such as North America in the 19th century or the Amazon in the 20th century and earlier?
  • How do infrastructure corridors challenge our conventional notions of cities?
  • How do infrastructure corridors challenge conventional notions of (national) sovereignty?
  • How does digital infrastructure shape cities?
  • What does “place” mean in the age of infrastructure?
  • Who are the winners and who are the losers in the case of large infrastructure projects?  
  • How are large infrastructure projects (including corridors and smart cities) shaping gender relations?

For more information, please see the symposium concept note.

Submission deadline and timeline
-Abstract: please send a paper abstract (not exceeding 250 words) as well as a bio of the main author(s) (not exceeding 200 words), no later than Monday, 29 April 2019, to Ms. Xiaolan Lin in the UKNA Secretariat, at: x.lin@iias.nl.
-Notification: authors of selected abstracts will be notified before the end of May 2019.
-Draft paper: draft papers will be expected by mid-November 2019.

    Confirmed panels

    Panel 1: Experiencing Infrastructure

    Conveners: Lovitoli Jimo and Surajit Sarkar, AUD

    The panel will address the utilitarian and empowering logic of infrastructure by presenting voices that reflect the lived experience of being on or off the infrastructure grid. Locating the infrastructural within the regional and urban dynamic, the panel will present insights into consequences of infrastructure building and its socio-political impact. Drawing from history and the present, the panelists will describe after-effects of infrastructure building on gender, social hierarchies, human mobility and its economic consequences.

    Panel 2: Rethinking Himalayan Infrastructures

    Convener: Dr. Rohit Negi, School of Global Affairs, AUD

    The Himalayan region is as important to environmental and climate scientists, given its globally-important physical attributes, as it is to social researchers, on account of unique cultural forms and relative autonomy with respect to states and economies. More recently, however, places across the Himalayas have witnessed critical but poorly-understood social-economic transformations that are refiguring built environments, ecologies and regional politics in fundamental ways. At the heart of these processes lie infrastructural developments. From rail and road networks to hydroelectric projects, and from real estate and construction-linked investments to telecommunications, infrastructures are reshaping people's relationship with each other, with the ‘mainland’, and with regional environments. Among other things, presenters will address the:

    • Processes driving infrastructural expansion across the region;
    • Differential impacts of such developments along lines of ethnicity, community, and gender;
    • Reconfiguring of subjectivities with respect to local and national identities;
    • Long-term environmental implications.

    Panel 3: Transnational Approaches to Infrastructure
    Conveners: Juan Du, Associate Professor, Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong; and Sony Devabhaktuni, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong

    As infrastructure projects in Asia take on continental scales – with physical links leading to immaterial connections of capital, people and cultures – transnational questions have become increasingly relevant and complex. The panel seeks contributions that explore the implications of infrastructure development in Asia for connectivity and boundaries, the movement of populations, sovereignty and cultural identity. Case studies of Special Economic Zones, development corridors and new urban centers that rely on transnational modes of financing or technical cooperation are welcomed, as are contributions on research methods for transnational questions. Presenters may also address:

    • The immaterial connections created by transnational projects;
    • The actors/agents implicated in transnational infrastructural development; and
    • Cultural impact of temporary or long-term migration.

    Panel 4: Infrastructures in the Age of Global China

    Convener: Dr. Yifei Li, NYU Shanghai, New York University

    The Xi Jinping administration’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) entails ambitious plans to restructure global trade, transportation, energy, and security networks in Eurasia and beyond, repositioning China at its center. With its focus on mobility and connectivity, the BRI is poised to redefine infrastructure on a continental scale. As the BRI folds an increasingly extensive geographical area into its purview, it is imperative to take stock of empirical research about the infrastructural implications of the BRI. The current panel seeks to bring together an array of social scientific research on infrastructures in the age of global China. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

    • Port cities and their roles in the BRI;
    • Discourses of infrastructures and mobility;
    • Grounded experiences of (dis-)connectivity; and
    • Frictions along the BRI corridors.

    Panel 5: Infrastructure in the Future City

    Convener: Paul Rabé, Coordinator of urban programs, IIAS

    The fifth panel considers different imaginations of the urban future in Asia, and the role of infrastructure in these visions. The past decades have witnessed a succession of approaches to improve the quality of urban life and the urban environment, including eco-cities, sustainable cities, digital cities, smart cities and green cities. Many of these approaches are based on new infrastructure “solutions” and are technocratic in nature, far removed from local needs and traditions. Some of these initiatives have not gone further than slogans. This panel seeks to engage critically with these infrastructure visions and their application to urban life in Asia—and to evaluate whether there are alternative infrastructure models for human flourishing and environmental well-being in cities in Asia.

    Possible panel sub-topics:

    • City planning and visioning: public sector; corporations; and residents;
    • The role of technology;
    • Social and environmental sustainability;
    • Climate change and low-carbon transitions.

    Keynote Speech and Discussion

    Speaker: Kekhrie Yhome, Academician, Social activist, Politician

    Chair / Discussant: Vikheho Swu, Politician and Social activist, former Road and Bridge Minister, Nagaland

    Topic: The current ‘infrastructure era’, creating and connecting physical, information, social and business infrastructures, seeks to improve the lives of people by improving the physical basis of development. However, large physical investments by their very nature create a development gap – among centers and peoples, the rural and urban, and also rewrite notions of center and periphery among regions, depending on their location in, and access to, aspects of the infrastructural grid. The keynote discussion will address how policy makers engage with the consequences of infrastructure building.


    Dimapur Nagaland .


    Mrs Lin