The Roads Project

Island Infrastructure: Global flows of post-colonial expertise in the Maldives

Island Infrastructure: Global flows of post-colonial expertise in the Maldives

Dr Luke Heslop & Dr Laura Jeffery :  

As a British Protectorate, infrastructure development, national planning and the organisation of public works in the Maldives was not subject to the same regimes of expertise institutionalised through the colonial experience in India and Sri Lanka, it’s closest South Asian neighbours. Architectural and infrastructural expertise has come to the Maldives through the private sector, notably through the development of resorts. For Government owned companies undertaking public work, such as the Maldives Road Development Corporation, ‘expertise’ is considered something developed through exposure to private-sector subcontractors. Directors of state owned enterprises and management consultancy firms couch this in terms of ‘capacity building’. Formally, a capacity building component is written into the project contracts of outside agencies.  Informally, developing ‘capacity’ has a personal inflection, as industrious entrepreneurs on the fringes of large construction projects embrace chances to work with established firms and develop their knowledge. As the Maldives embraces an accelerated development of physical infrastructure on inhabited islands, the question of technical expertise and the acquisition of skills to design and build falls into focus.

The paper traces the flows of what is recognised to be ‘expertise’ from the roadside, where contracted Bangladeshi labourers shift sand, supervised by Sri Lankan middle-managers, working on outsourced projects for Maldivian clients, bringing to fruition designs of Singaporean architectural firms. Drawing on ethnographic research with private development contractors, engineers, architects, consultants and road builders, the paper explores the global flow of postcolonial ‘expertise’ as projects are designed and implemented on a coralline island in the Indian Ocean.

 This paper will be presented by Dr Luke Heslop at The 116th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, to be held in Washington, DC, November 29, 2017. And by invitation, at Lincoln College, Oxford University, 12th of January 2018, for a workshop on “The Social Life of Work: Towards a critical understanding of the changing dynamics of work in the global South”.


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