Curating the Borderlands: State, Market, and Heritage Making in China

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room (1219 International Affairs Building)

Please join us for a talk with Alessandro Rippa, Postdoctoral Fellow, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

Since the launch of the Open Up the West Program (xibu da kaifa) in 2000, the development of China's western provinces has been a priority for the central government. Today, amidst a worrying economic slowdown and New Silk Road fantasies, China's borderlands seem to assume new significance. This talk moves from two different case studies -- Kashgar, in Xinjiang, and the Dulong Valley in Yunnan -- to analyze three major processes currently shaping China's peripheries and the lives of local minorities (*shaoshu minzu*): renewed state presence in terms of both bureaucratic and social control; the increasingly prominent role of market forces; and state-led attempts at heritage making. While state and market both consolidate what Habermas has called the "colonisation of everyday life", heritage making assures discursive control over minority culture by attempting to replace the importance of social relations that remain illegible (Scott) to state authorities. In order to understand those processes Rippa employs the notion of "curation" to define the government's effort to create modern subjects through particular material interventions and the commodification of minority culture. While "curation" hints at the attempt to turn ideology into reality typical of many modernist projects, it does so by including local responses beyond the mere appropriation/resistance frameworks. Curation, in other words, needs some form of consent, and both Kashgar and the Dulong valley offer valuable examples of local engagement with China's developmentalist ideology.

Alessandro Rippa completed his doctorate in Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen with a thesis on the Karakoram Highway and China-Pakistan cross-border interactions. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at LMU Munich, part of the ERC funded project “Remoteness and Connectivity: Highland Asia in the World” (, where he researches infrastructural development, cross-border trade and memory along the China-Myanmar and China-Laos borderlands.