The Geotechnical Imaginary of the Belt and Road: Mobilising Imaginative Labour
What is the Belt and Road? Academics, pundits and policymakers have offered divergent answers ranging from a grand geostrategic gambit to an incoherent frenzy of sub-state commercial opportunism, from an inward-looking hinterland development strategy to the building of a global “community of common destiny for mankind”, and from an overflow of industry to a vacuous propaganda slogan. While there is evidence to support each of these arguments, this long and growing list lacks an integrative framework that could shed light on the relationships among the individual phenomena. This article offers a step in this direction, drawing from science and technology studies. It contends that these disparate perspectives on the BRI can be integrated into an understanding of the BRI as a geotechnical imaginary – a collectively imagined form of global life and order reflected in the design and performance of specific technological projects. This perspective foregrounds how China’s party-state’s capacious BRI slogan has mobilised imaginings – both affirmatory and oppositional – on a global scale. These shared imaginings, with divergent normative implications, suggest a broadening of the existing concept of sociotechnical imaginaries.
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