Natalie Ng

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Santa Cruz, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10439

Approve Date

October 11, 2022

Project Title

Ng, Natalie (California, Santa Cruz, U. of) "Spirits and Sovereignty in the Boten Special Economic Zone"

China’s Belt & Road Initiative (B&RI) captured imaginations by promising to link Europe and Asia by rail. ‘Special Economic Zones’ (SEZs) are crucial to its functioning, connecting infrastructure projects and capturing financial flows. SEZs are also spaces of contested sovereignty where states, corporations, and other actors claim land. My project emerges from stories of ghosts and spirits haunting Chinese transplant workers in the Boten SEZ, Laos. I anticipate that Lao people displaced from the zone will have kinship and guardianship relationships with some of these spirits, and that these relationships can be a source of power. My project asks: 1.Why are certain places in the Special Economic Zone still undeveloped? 2. How do the different populations in and around the Special Economic Zone engage with ghosts and spirits? 3. How do relationships between humans, ghosts, and spirits affect sovereignty in Boten? To answer these questions, I will conduct ethnographic interviews, participant observation, guided memory walks, and GIS mapping to trace relationships between landscape, humans, and ghosts in Boten, highlighting spaces where hauntings threaten imperial and entrepreneurial imaginings. I am applying for the Wenner Gren DRG to fund ethnographic fieldwork from January to December 2023 around the Boten SEZ, Laos.