Subterranean and orbital spaces of the Belt and Road
A seminar and lecture by Dr Julie Michelle Klinger, Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware and involved as a leader or principal investigator in several research programmes.
Although overwhelmingly represented as terrestrial, ground-based infrastructures, subterranean and orbital spaces are fundamental and instrumental in infrastructure development projects such as those of the BRI, and are therefore also spaces of contestation. This suggests that a revised theoretical framework that combats the ‘surface bias’ of mega-projects research is due.
In this seminar, Dr Klinger shares findings from fieldwork conducted in China, Brazil, Nigeria and Algeria and analysis of media and government documents from the United States, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
With some important exceptions, the Belt and Road Initiative is overwhelmingly represented and conceptualized as terrestrial, ground-based infrastructures: rails, roads, ports, and power plants. But subterranean and orbital spaces are fundamental and instrumental to this, and other infrastructure development projects and are therefore also spaces of contestation.
The planning, construction, monitoring, and operation of such infrastructures rely on satellite imagery and monitoring; navigation and connectivity among Belt and Road partner states are mediated through networks of satellite technologies, ground stations, and handheld devices. Minerals and other raw materials extracted from the substrata are not only essential to build the ground-based infrastructures, but immense volumes of them are also transported in the form of fuels and commodities via new and existing infrastructural corridors.
The exercise of competing development visions through subterranean and orbital spaces draws diverse landscapes and lives into the vortices of large-scale development processes of the transnational state. The fact that these processes are not unique to the Belt and Road but rather are characteristic of large-scale infrastructure projects across the globe suggests that a revised theoretical framework that combats the ‘surface bias’ of mega-projects research is due.
This talk shares findings from fieldwork conducted in China from 2011 to 2013, in Brazil in 2017 and 2018, Nigeria and Algeria in 2019, and analysis of media and government documents from the United States, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan accessed with the help of translators between 2013 to 2021.
Dr Julie Michelle Klinger is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences at the University of Delaware, Associate Director of the Minerals, Materials, and Society program, Principal Investigator of National Science Foundation Award #2039857, Characterizing the Global Illicit Trade in Energy-Critical Materials Using Machine Learning, Remote Sensing, and Multilingual Qualitative Research, and a member of the International Standards Organization Technical Advisory Group 298: Rare Earth Supply Chain Transparency and Traceability. She has published numerous articles on rare earth elements, natural resource use, environmental politics, and outer space, including the award-winning book Rare Earth Frontiers: From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes.
This event takes place at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden and is organised in cooperation with the International Institute of Social Studies (Erasmus University) and Dr Jojo Nem Singh, Coordinator of the research programme Green Industrial Policy in the Age of Rare Metals (GRIP-ARM).