WEBINAR: Environing Global Infrastructure Locally: China’s “Green” Development in Southeast Asia. Environmental Lunchtime Discussion

How to understand China's global investments abroad in an environmental context, and the planetary, world-making nature of global building projects? Alessandro Rippa and Roger Norum talk about what the environmental humanities can bring to this field.

Landscape with brown ground and green trees and bushes.
Photo: Alessandro Rippa

China’s global investments abroad are increasingly framed within the language of “green” development. Yet such rhetoric – often understood to lie somewhere between earnest environmentalist concern and blatant greenwashing – chafes with China’s own multiple, and often conspicuous, environmental crises domestically. Scholarship on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s global development-cum-geopolitical strategy, has thus far focused on its strategic and financial aspects, while interdisciplinary research on ecologies of Chinese building ambition has primarily investigated the environmental impacts of individual infrastructure projects.

What the environmental humanities can bring to this field is scholarship that links empirical studies of infrastructure with research into the socio-environmental phenomena and discourse they produce, enabling us to map the planetary, world-making nature of global building projects. This crucial dynamic has yet to be studied from a comparative, transnational perspective. In this presentation we outline a new, five-year research project that aims to bring critical, in-depth ethnographic analysis to the BRI’s encroaching presence across Southeast Asia. By revealing the complex roles played by large-scale infrastructures in the quotidian lives of the communities they touch, the project aims to demonstrate how infrastructure forges new places, subjects, environments and epistemologies.


Alessandro Rippa is a social anthropologist working on borders, infrastructure and the environment. Alessandro completed his doctorate at the University of Aberdeen and held postdoctoral positions at LMU Munich (www.highlandasia.net) and at the University of Colorado Boulder (www.chinamadeproject.net). In September 2020 he will begin a new 5-year research project at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, as part of which he will focus on the analysis of the social and environmental consequences of Chinese investments in Myanmar. He is one of the editors of the Routledge Handbook of Asian Borderlands and author of an upcoming monograph on China’s borderlands with Amsterdam University Press. 


Roger Norum is a social anthropologist whose work focuses on the shifting practices of media, mobility and the environment, primarily among transient and precarious communities in the Arctic and Asia. His recent titles include Anthropocene Ecologies: Entanglements of Tourism, Nature and Imagination (Routledge, 2020) and Migrantes (Ekaré, 2019). He is currently a lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Oulu.


About the event series

The OSEH Environmental Lunchtime Discussion series consists of short, 10-15 minute presentations by invited guests, followed by a discussion. We invite speakers from a wide variety of fields, both academic and beyond. The presentations are accessible and are aimed at anyone with an interest in environmental issues. All are welcome.

Tags: Environmental Humanities, HF, IKOS, OSEH, Development, Ecology, China, South East Asia
Published Feb. 21, 2020 5:57 PM - Last modified Apr. 9, 2020 10:35 AM