Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Chinese state development partnerships in Latin America have burgeoned since 2005, inciting observers to either celebrate the prospect of a productive new era of South-South relations or to lament the threat of a Chinese invasion and renewed dependency for the region. In Central America in particular, where the majority of countries have historically maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the shift by some to Beijing has portended not only economic transformations, but also serious geopolitical implications for an area once thought of as the United States’ “backyard” but which now increasingly figures as part of China’s global Belt and Road Initiative. Making sense of these cross-border and cross-regional flows, networks, agents, and projects requires critical reflection on the spatial and epistemological tools we use to analyze them. For example, what is at stake in describing these relations as trans-national, trans-regional, or trans-pacific? What work does each of these terms do in terms of the spatial referents they invoke—i.e., do they transcend “areas” or locate qualitatively new forms of global engagement? How do they help us map the meaning of both the situated practices and the new worlds being conjured through China-Latin America collaborations? Building on ethnographic research of Chinese development projects in Central America, this paper will explore the politics of deploying these distinct conceptual frames as tools for describing and analyzing the new global arrangements being forged through contemporary transpacific developments.