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Cologne Summer School “CHINA global: the Politics of Infrastructure”, September 2-9, 2019

In cooperation with the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, PR China


The Excellence Forum “CHINA global: ideas, values, practices” organized the interdisciplinary summer school CHINA global: the Politics of Infrastructure, taking place from September 2-9, 2019 in cooperation with the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. The Excellence Forum CHINA global was established at the University of Cologne in 2017 as part of the German Excellence Initiative and involves the Universities of Cologne, Fudan, Nottingham-Ningbo and Xiamen, as well as the Stiftung Asienhaus (Cologne) as institutional partners.

For Master and PhD students of the University of Cologne, the summer school was part of the graduate course “CHINA global: the Politics of Infrastructure”, jointly organized by representatives of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Philosophy, and Modern Chinese Studies.

For students participating in this course the program included two public lectures by invited speakers, as well as two research seminars in Cologne prior to the summer school in Ningbo. The first public lecture by Prof. Dr. Ellen Hertz (University of Neuchâtel) was scheduled for June 18, 2019 and titled “Communication as Governmentality: Transnational Corporate Social Responsibility Comes to the Chinese Countryside”. The second public lecture was given on July 9, 2019 by Dr. Matthew Erie (University of Oxford) and titled “China’s ‘Law and Development’ Moment? Outbound Capital, Risk, and Order”. After the lecture, students engaged in a lively discussion with Dr. Matthew Erie.

The summer school CHINA global: the Politics of Infrastructure focused on the social, political, economic and moral dimensions of Chinese investments in transnational infrastructure projects, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aka The New Silk Road, a major expression of a new China-centered globalization that is distinctive in its scale and speed. Students heard lectures and discussed anthropological, economic, and philosophical perspectives on infrastructure, development, and urbanization. As practical illustrations to the academic program, the summer school was complemented by excursions to the Tianyi Pavilion in Ningbo, one of the oldest private libraries in China, the ancient town of Cicheng, and a visit to the Ningbo Museum (organized by the University of Nottingham Ningbo China).

In total, there were 16 Master and PhD students participating in the summer school. These included 10 Master and PhD students from Cologne (Social and Cultural Anthropology, Modern Chinese Studies, and Philosophy), 5 students from the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (International Studies and International Communications), and one PhD student from Lanzhou University. Chinese participants had been independently recruited by CHINA global partners at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

The schedule of the summer school composed of daily lectures that were followed by work groups and plenaries. The work groups were led by Dr. Roberta Zavoretti and Amtul Shaheen, M.A. (both University of Cologne) and concentrated on forming questions and statements on the texts that accompanied the lectures. In the plenaries, these were presented to the respective author and speaker and discussed with all participants and teachers.

The keynote lecture of the summer school was delivered by Prof. Dr. Susanne Brandtstädter (Anthropology, University of Cologne) on Monday and titled “Chinese Roads: Anthropological Reflections on Road-Building, Development Visions and the Infrastructures of New Moral Orders”. The lecture presented Chinese roads as a lens to fundamental economic, political, and social integration, shedding light on how modern infrastructure projects are linked with narratives on historical connectivity and work as a means to spatialize Chinese political aspirations.

Panitda Saiyarod (Anthropology, University of Cologne) presented her PhD project “The Clash of Connectedness: Local Responses to China’s Transnational Infrastructure Projects in a Border Town, Thailand” on Monday, providing a case example for the summer school’s theme. Prof. Dr. Wilfried Hinsch (Philosophy, University of Cologne) in his lecture on Thursday introduced into the contested nature of international human rights, analytically approaching related terms of justice, responsibility, and duty that help explore Chinese infrastructure projects from a philosophical standpoint.

During the summer school, four guest lectures were given by scholars of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China and Prof. Dr. Timothy Oakes (Geography, University of Colorado Boulder).

Dr. Grant Dawson (International Studies, UNNC) on Monday gave a talk on risk and uncertainty in international politics and business, highlighting how the nature of risk has changed amidst the present global connectedness. Prof. Dr. May Tan-Mullins (International Studies, UNNC) in her lecture “The Geopolitics of South-South Infrastructure Development in the BRI: Examples from Africa and Asia” on Tuesday evaluated impacts of BRI projects in different local contexts and addressed geopolitical implications of Chinese sponsored infrastructural projects in the global south. Dr. Nagatomi Hirayama (International Studies, UNNC) in his lecture “‘Democracy’ in Modern China” on Friday reflected upon the implementation and reception of Chinese infrastructural projects, focusing on notions of power and wealth.

Prof. Dr. Timothy Oakes’ lecture “Infrastructure Maniac: the Techno-Politics of the ‘China Model’ of Development” on Friday exemplified how Chinese infrastructure projects are linked to the idea of the urban, emerge from a heir of socialist state-making and proposed to, rather than trying to grasp the BRI as a whole, investigate into specific infrastructures.

The program was concluded on Saturday in the plenary “What have we learned?”, followed by a discussion of students’ individual projects.

The summer school in Ningbo provided a valuable opportunity for the participating Master and PhD students to develop their academic and personal skills, not least due to enriching exchanges between Chinese and German students. The participants of different academic backgrounds hugely benefited from the summer school’s interdisciplinary approach, enabling a deeper understanding of China’s increasing influence in the world.