Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Emily T. Yeh

Second Advisor

John O'Loughlin

Third Advisor

Tim Oakes

Fourth Advisor

Joe Bryan

Fifth Advisor

Tina Harris


This dissertation examines infrastructure development between Nepal and China to argue that infrastructure is a symbol of national development imaginaries, a process and practice of state making, and a vector for the spatial operations of geopolitical power. Starting with the construction of a small trans-border road in Nepal’s northern district of Mustang, I examine how a local infrastructure project has evolved into and been incorporated within larger, international transportation networks, border regimes, trade and tax policies, and humanitarian programs. In making this analysis, I introduce the concept of border corridors to examine how highways, fences, bureaucracies, and aid are interwoven infrastructural components that build upon one another in scalar and fractal ways in the production of larger infrastructure systems. Utilizing the dialectical lenses of mobility and containment to see how infrastructure development in Mustang constitutes new forms of border corridors, I argue that shifting configurations of trade networks and sovereign rule have (re)shaped social relations across the region that are in turn expressed through unique but oscillating geographical imaginaries. As fractal constructions and relational processes that augment, redirect, and replace one another, I also show that infrastructures are not things with definitive edges, beginnings, or endings but, rather, interdependent pieces of broader and more complex material configurations. In order to see the state by looking at the borderlands, I also examine infrastructures as material processes that undergird state formation and illustrate how cultural practices and geopolitical interests converge in material and territorial ways through the production of roads, borders, commodity circulations, and humanitarian aid. Unraveling the entanglements of these infrastructural systems, I show how infrastructures intersect and refract one another across trans-Himalayan spaces and, in so doing, reconfigure relationships between states and citizens. Particularly in the context of greater Chinese interventions in South Asia and possible future trajectories of Beijing’s One Belt One Road Initiative, I argue that infrastructure development in Nepal presents a valuable case with which to understand the linkages between broad international processes of South-South development and local community level experiences with changing subject positions and social stratification.