Geoffrey Aung Ph.D. Candidate (Columbia University)
“ZONE: capital, infrapolitics, and an economic zone on hold.”
Date&Time: 10.03.2020, Tuesday, 13.30
Based on 18 months of field research in Dawei, a town in southern Myanmar, my current project is an ethnographic study of the politics of infrastructure around one of the world’s largest infrastructure projects: the Dawei special economic zone (SEZ). On hold since 2013, the Dawei SEZ promises port, pipeline, and transport links across the border from Myanmar’s Andaman coast to Bangkok. In this talk, I show how a tense political split – between town-based activists contesting the SEZ and villagers who wish for it to resume – owes to wider contradictions in postcolonial capitalism, whereby shared desires for developmental progress clash with the imperatives of capital accumulation. In Dawei, a fragmented political landscape results. Bringing capital back into the study of technopolitics, I argue that this zone – or zone, a powerful absent presence – demands new political theories of technology, better attuned to the making of social difference across spatial, gendered, and racialized ethnic divides. Along the way, I reconceptualize the politics of infrastructure as infrapolitics, a politics that expands our understanding of the conditions inherent to the political. I also locate the concept ethnographically, moreover, showing how infrapolitics in Dawei illuminates challenging relations between capital, politics, and infrastructure in the present.
Geoffrey Aung is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, where he specializes in the anthropology of politics and technology in South and Southeast Asia. He is currently based in Ankara, Turkey and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.