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Accepted Paper:

Beyond “friction”? A translational anthropology of investment along a violent logistical corridor in Myanmar  
Geoffrey Aung (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

Rethinking the notion of friction, this paper proposes a translational anthropology of investment to better grasp the violent reproduction of difference along today’s logistical investment projects. The paper foregrounds repeated upsurges of violent unrest along the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the violent contradictions that have accompanied a series of foreign investment projects in Myanmar: the port, economic zone, pipelines, and transport projects of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). Within China’s Belt and Road framework, the CMEC primarily moves oil and gas across Myanmar to southern China. Its array of zones and corridors has also seen repeated upsurges of violent unrest, from communal violence and mass atrocities to insurgencies and counter-insurgencies. These upheavals have deepened social differences along spatial, gendered, and racialized ethnic divides. Drawing on critical logistics scholarship, I ask whether “friction”—a concept developed to raise questions about the noncultural, nonsituated globalist scholarship of the 1990s—is adequate to the dramatic forms of violence that shadow large-scale logistics investments in an age of shifting imperial power. From China’s logistical frontiers to US logistics projects in the wake of the War on Terror, I suggest that a translational anthropology of investment, more closely attuned to the forceful reproduction of difference along flows of goods, capital, and labor, might better capture the turbulence of contemporary large-scale logistics investments. While “friction” reinscribes a diversified global ecumene, theorists of translation insist that navigating difference across space, languages, and political struggles entails acts of bordering that trouble normative global imaginaries. A translational anthropology of investment stands to foreground the violent reproduction of borders—the violent reproduction of difference—that logistics projects often present.

Panel P031b
Imaginaries of foreign investment: friction and co-constitution of international financial flows and national borders [AnthEcon] II
  Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -