Rescaling the Frontier: Documenting the Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline

This project investigates the changing landscape along the Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline. Completed in 2013, the Turkmen pipeline is the largest of a handful of new infrastructure projects in Central Asia that follow the path of the historic “Silk Road.” Although major development projects in the region have featured prominently in policy reviews and major media outlets, little research has been undertaken that documents the cultural, ecological, and urban transformations of the landscapes affected. Methodologically, the project draws on historical analysis, ethnography, itinerant observation, and the mapping of new infrastructure and its cultural-urban implications. The project is a collaborative venture and will result in a scholarly article, short documentary, and online digital exhibition that explores the shifting environment along what is popularly referred to as Central Asia’s new “gas road.”

There is significant need for new research that documents how large-scale, linear infrastructure projects such as oil and gas pipelines are affecting ecological conditions, local communities and the wider spatial environment. Is there a balance to be struck between historical preservation and energy exploration? To what end is this new infrastructure leading to shifts in landscape ecology, mobility, and patterns of urbanization? 

A small team from Harvard University comprising of doctoral candidates in Urban Planning, Landscape Architecture and Media Anthropology will travel to Central Asia in July 2015 to begin fieldwork on a year-long research project: “Rescaling the Frontier: Documenting the Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline.” Summer 2015 represents a critical moment to investigate some of these questions: the impact of the Turkmen pipeline is just beginning to be felt, and memories of life and land before the pipeline are still close at hand. The value of the project is also heightened following the September 2014 groundbreaking of a new gas pipeline between China and Russia. Further, the relationship between large-scale linear infrastructure and historic preservation is a particularly important issue following the designation of the eastern stretch of the Silk Road as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014.

This digital exhibition serves as an introduction to the research initiative and unpacks some of the key themes the project addresses. This website will be updated continuously while the research team is in Central Asia July 2015, as well as after the team returns to Harvard. 

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Justin D. Stern