Assembling China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Discourse, Institution, and Materials

Hu, Ran (2024). Assembling China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Discourse, Institution, and Materials. International Political Sociology, 18(1), article no. olae002.



The article uses the concept of assemblage to analyze the becoming , not being, of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), that is, the ways in which different elements were framed and constructed so as to constitute the BRI, often seen as China’s “grand” or “global” strategy. Different from rational and more-than-rational perspectives, the assemblage approach pays attention to the role of materials as well as the contingencies that were associated with the BRI. Thus, the article argues that the global BRI is best conceptualized as an assemblage that emerged through (de)territorializing processes in which various practices, institutions, discourses, and materials came together to form different relations with specific effects, rather than a set of principles simply conceived and imposed by China’s central government. The Chinese governmental institutions and national discourses are critical to its emergence, but so are materials such as the forms of pol- icy papers and infrastructure. Seeing it this way allows us to understand how such a broad and heterogenous strategy as the BRI is held together without ceasing to be heterogenous; in other words, how the BRI emerges, travels, and mutates.

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