University of Sussex
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The political ecology of road construction in Ladakh

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posted on 2023-06-08, 11:14 authored by Jonathan Demenge
This thesis explores the politics and consequences of road construction for local populations and migrant road workers in Ladakh. Through a political ecology framework, I consider road construction as the transformation of an environment in which different agents act through specific socio-political arrangements and for purposes that are socially and culturally mediated. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in remote villages and among groups of Nepali and Jharkhandi road workers in Ladakh, the thesis documents the case of the Zanskar Highway, a 292 km long trans- Himalayan road that has been under construction since the 1970s. It analyses the reasons why states build roads, nationally and more specifically in the contested landscape of Ladakh; why people want roads; how people negotiate roads and their trajectory; and what the consequences of roads and road construction are in terms of mobility, isolation, resource use, livelihoods and well-being. In the thesis, I question the roads-development nexus, and argue that the reasons why states build roads are extremely diverse and have changed over time. I argue that road construction is a highly political process determined by conflicting motivations and perceptions. I also argue that the consequences of roads are complex, often ambiguous and region-specific, and that gains and losses that occur because of roads and their construction are unequally distributed, within and between local and migrant populations. The research makes an original contribution to road studies by studying the political, socio-economic and symbolic consequences of both roads and the process of their construction for the populations that live near new roads and those who build them. It also links ex-ante with ex-post road studies by looking at what happens during the process of construction. Finally, it contributes to Ladakh studies by documenting the history of road construction in the region and providing the first study of migrants in Ladakh.


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  • Institute of Development Studies Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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