Technosphere. An Infrastructure State Reconfigures Global Space

Aihwa Ong (U of California, Berkeley)


Spatialization, Ong argues, is a technology of governance that modern Asian states have used to define spaces of graduated sovereignty, e.g. free trade zones. An infrastructural assemblage – the strategic combination of technology, capital, expertise, and actors – also guides the making of overseas spaces. By exporting these elements and constellating them in multiple sites, a powerful state can remap and enhance value production in a new transnational order.

As an infrastructure state, China has steadily deployed technology, finance, and engineers to developing countries. In 2013, Beijing invoked the historical Silk Road to launch its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a two-pronged mega project to link far-flung sites: an economic belt is under construction linking China to Eurasia and Eastern Europe; and a maritime silk road would cement links from SE Asia to Africa. Chinese built railways, pipelines, ports, and internet systems are shaping a technosphere that rivals corporate platforms.

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About the Speaker

Aihwa Ong is Professor and Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is the Chair of the Centre of Southeast Asian Studies. She is a member of the Science Council of the International Panel on Social Progress.

Recently, she was invited to be the 2020 SSRC Research Council Fellow. Her lecture series is entitled “Cloned Monkeys & Gene-edited Babies: Productive Uncertainty in China’s Biosecurity.”

Ong’s study of flows and their ensuing entanglements tends to unsettle stabilized viewpoints and units of analysis in the social sciences. Her inquiry explores how assemblages of technology, politics and cultures crystallize emerging contexts of globality. She has published on a range of subjects: female labor in runaway factories; Asian immigrants in the United States; neoliberal norms in China; and Asian mega cities. More recently, she studies how Asian life science projects, and Chinese experimental art, respectively, mediate and transform global flows. She has lectured internationally and been invited to the World Economic Forum. Her awards include grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the National Science Foundation, and some book prizes.

Ong is the author of five works: “Fungible Life: Experiment in the Asian City of Life” (2016); “Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty” (2006); “Buddha is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America” (2003); “Flexible Citizenship: the Cultural Logics of Transnationality” (1999), an academic bestseller; and “Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia” (1986), widely recognized as a classic ethnography of global labor.  She is also the co-editor of “Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems” (2005, coeditor Stephen J. Collier). Other co-edited works include “Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global” (2011); “Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate” (2010); “Privatizing China: Socialism from Afar” (2008); and “Ungrounded Empires: the Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism” (1997). Her writings are translated into European and Asian languages.