My research project at IIAS is based on my MA thesis exploring high speed rail reform in China. China is building the world's largest and most advanced high-speed rail (HSR) network. But are all aboard? Contrasting state and citizen perspectives, this project looks into a transportation revolution based on seemingly self-evident narratives of progress and speed.

The HSR strategy succeeds as a nation-building tool, shrinking China into an increasingly accessible and uniform area and altering conceptualizations of time and space among its citizens. However, in creating a transportation realm set to replace affordable regular rail, HSR also reinforces and actively enlarges social inequalities, prompting widespread questioning of the overheated development it has come to symbolize.

Seemingly primarily an issue of spatial restructuring, HSR development in China extends into cultural, social, and ideological territory. Who gets to define what modernity in China should look like? When will considerations of costs and benefits to different parts of the population start to matter in the state’s setting of China’s reform agenda? What is the significance of Chinese HSR development, both to China and to the rest of the world?

During my time at IIAS I hope to integrate my 2012 and 2014 fieldwork findings into a preliminary study on the social impact of high speed rail reform in China. Based on public opinion survey and participant observation on trains and buses in Jiangsu and Guizhou—two provinces showcasing the variety of development speeds in contemporary China – I  argue that the ideologically motivated HSR strategy displays both structural strengths and weaknesses of China's adaptive authoritarianism.