Geographica Helvetica (May 2021)

The Chinese and the chief's tree: framing narratives of socionature and development in Kibwezi, Kenya

  • M. Lawrence

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 76
pp. 221 – 232


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China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) exploits increased permeability of all kinds of boundaries even as old rhetorics of sovereign space are reanimated. This paper examines a very local example of impacts in Kibwezi, Kenya. Regarding more than a century of local land disputes, BRI's “dreamscape” (Jasanoff and Kim, 2015) can be repurposed especially given persistence of sacred geographies of wood and water access. These mathembo landscapes are less refuges for emasculated traditional customs and institutions than resources that are as much affective as they are material in their revitalization to meet the contexts of changed times. Such “socionatures” (Swyngedouw, 1996) energize multiple answers to questions of who gets to imagine the future and how much latitude others have to participate in particular designed futures as they see fit. As it turns out, dreamscapes may be opposed not only by equally grandiose alternative narratives but also by more localized imaginaries, and while dreamscapes are future-oriented, alternatives referencing the past can compete well.