Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology

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Dr. Galen Murton

Alumni / Visiting Scholar


Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich
Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
Oettingenstr. 67
80538 München


Areas of research and interest

I am a Marie S Curie fellow at the Institute for Ethnology at LMU for 2018-19, completing an Individual Action research project on Road Diplomacy: International Infrastructure and Ethnography of Geopolitics in 21st Century Asia. As a visiting scholar at LMU, I work in close collaboration with Martin Saxer and the team comprising his ERC Starting Grant project: Remoteness and Connectivity: Highland Asia in the World. When not in Munich, I am Assistant Professor of Geographic Science in the School of Integrated Sciences at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia (USA). I completed my PhD in the Department of Geography at the University of Colorado Boulder as well as a Master’s degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts, USA) and a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vermont, USA). These days, I study the politics of infrastructure development and how power operates through material things like roads, fences, bridges, and dams. I am especially curious about the social and geopolitical impacts of such development projects in Asia and focus particularly on the proliferation of motor roads between China and Nepal. Drawing on training in human geography, international relations, and comparative religion, I am also interested in historical trans-Himalayan routes of pilgrimage and trade and the modernization of these pathways into new kinds of economic, political, and cultural corridors. Amongst other topics, I especially enjoy teaching courses in cultural geography, development, and critical geopolitics and like to conduct fieldwork with my students in the mountain ranges of Asia as well as the Americas.


Road Diplomacy: International Infrastructure and Ethnography of Geopolitics in 21st Century Asia

The objective of my Marie S. Curie Individual Action Grant project Road Diplomacy is to understand where, why, and to what extent roads are being built between China and South Asia and to untangle the inter-related geopolitical and social impacts of infrastructure development at village, national, and international scales. The project will first map road developments throughout the trans-Himalaya and second investigate the geopolitical drivers and social impacts of road construction throughout spaces of Highland Asia. By combining innovative methods from geography, anthropology, and international relations, the project aims to produce new empirical data on infrastructure development in 21st century Asia and illustrate the links between macro geopolitical processes and micro local experiences. Anticipated datasets will improve interdisciplinary communications for social scientists and between development practitioners, donor agencies, policymakers, and local stakeholders. As part of the European Commission Horizon 2020 framework, Road Diplomacy research is also of immediate and broad relevance to a range of stakeholders, from Europe and the Americas to China, Nepal, and the many places in between.