Call for Participants

Third China Made Workshop: The Social Life of Chinese Infrastructures in Southeast Asia

Date: May 19 2021 – May 21 2021
Venue: AS8, Level 4, Seminar Room 04-04, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260 National University of Singapore


This is the final workshop of a three-year initiative, funded by The Henry Luce Foundation, titled “China Made: Asian Infrastructures and the ‘China Model’ of Development.” It will be co-hosted by the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, and the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto.

The workshop will bring together scholars from different fields in the social sciences and humanities to discuss contemporary Chinese infrastructure development in Southeast Asia. By placing empirically grounded research projects in conversation with theoretical work on materiality and techno-politics, the workshop will center on the lived experience of infrastructure built through public and private Chinese development initiatives and investments. The workshop starts from the assumption that the domestic “China Model” of economic and political development centers on infrastructure: the construction of roads, dams, electric grids, pipelines, airports and cities. Over the past two decades this has been extended further into social life through digital infrastructures, surveillance and media systems, transportation platforms, logistics systems, and the commercial infrastructures of brands and franchises. Taken together these infrastructural systems extend particular logics and shape life experience in deeply felt ways. The goal of this workshop is thus to examine how Chinese infrastructures transform the social worlds and natural landscapes that they encounter as they move beyond China into Southeast Asia—often framed as the first segment of the Belt and Road Initiative—and how these infrastructures, are in turn, transformed by that transferal.

The workshop will focus on fine-grained investigations of Chinese infrastructures in Southeast Asia, including the political, social, cultural, spatial, and environmental dimensions of infrastructure planning, construction, and use. By way of such an approach, the workshop aims to provide rich ethnographic studies and empirically rigorous projects that problematize the China model of development as well as assumptions regarding its effects. In doing this the workshop will seek to show that Chinese infrastructure development is shaped by more than China’s geopolitical ambitions, desires for market expansion, and the need for a spatial fix for Chinese surplus capital. It may, for example, demonstrate that infrastructures, thought of as a complex assemblages with particular dispositions, can also produce their own logics, propulsions and power over life. The workshop strives to produce new synergies across disciplines and areas of research, while intervening in critical theoretical discussions of infrastructure in social science and humanities scholarship in and outside of China and Southeast Asian Studies.

We invite paper proposals that focus on the lived experience of infrastructures in Southeast Asia, particularly in the fields of geography, anthropology, science technology and society studies, history of technology, and urban studies. We seek papers that take seriously the agentive role of material systems while at the same time highlighting the role of human experience within them. We are particularly interested in papers that foreground the way power relations are shaped by techno-political systems in specific research contexts. Who benefits from China-made infrastructure systems? How is power distributed or consolidated by them? What types of circulation do they promote and restrict? How are forms of labor, movement and social organization transformed by them? And finally, what happens to the China model of development when it moves into both liberal and illiberal spaces?

Key domains of interest are:

  • The role of Chinese infrastructure in urban and rural transformation
  • The role of Chinese infrastructure in changing labor regimes and forms of production and consumption
  • The effects of Chinese infrastructure development on ecological systems
  • The effects of Chinese infrastructure in transforming social norms and shaping economic and political standards
  • The way communities and local institutions use Chinese infrastructures in unintended ways
  • The emergence of social movements related to Chinese infrastructure development


Submissions should include a title, abstract of no more than 250 words, a brief biography including name, institutional affiliation, email contact, and country travelling from. Please submit your proposal using the provided template to Darren Byler at by October 9, 2020.

Accepted applicants will be notified by October 30 and be provided a subsidy for a round-trip economy-class airfare to Singapore, accommodation, and some meals (one author per paper). Paper presenters will be required to submit an extended abstract of 800-1,000 by February 1, 2021 and final draft paper of 5,000-8,000 words by April 19, 2021.

COVID-19 related note: We intend to hold this workshop on location in Singapore, but under some circumstances remote participation may also be a possibility. Should travel to Singapore be impossible due to the virus, we plan to proceed with the workshop held remotely.


Darren Byler | Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Asian Studies, University of Colorado Boulder
Tim Oakes | Professor of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
Yang Yang | Postdoctoral Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University Singapore
Tim Bunnell | Professor of Geography, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Rachel Silvey | Professor of Geography, University of Toronto


AbdouMaliq Simone | Professor of Sociology, University of Sheffield

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