Fragments of the state: a rhizomatic ethnography of the Karakora Highway between China and Pakistan
Alessandro Rippa (Tallinn University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper employs Deleuze's concept of rhizome and the idea of "fragments" in order to address the multiplicity of histories, objects and activities of which the Karakoram Highway is made.
Paper long abstract:
The Karakoram Highway connects Kashgar and Islamabad through the 4,693 meter-high Khunjerab Pass. The local impact of the road, particularly in the northern regions of Pakistan, has been the subject of various studies over the past three decades. Less attention, at least from an anthropological perspective, has been given to the international character of the road and its importance for cross-border trade. Moreover, recent anthropological literature shows how roads can lead to revealing analysis of the state, particularly about how it is imagined and represented, but also experienced and negotiated on a day-to-day basis. My research moves from a 12-month fieldwork along the Highway, where I had the opportunity to meet, talk and travel with small traders and businessmen. Through a focus on various "objects" - the materiality of the road, the goods traded, Chinese road workers - and practices - conducting a business transaction, crossing the border, travelling along the Highway - I have come to an understanding of the road in terms of "multiplicity" and "fragmentation". In this paper I move from this analysis and argue that the experience of the road brings about a different engagement with the state, as I show through the examples of carpet trade and Chinese workers in Pakistan. In order to make this point I resort to Deleuze's notion of rhizome, as through its focus on open-endedness, becoming and connectivity, it helps shedding new light not only upon our conceptual understanding of the road, but also upon the people who travel and conduct business on it.