Jasnea Sarma
Jasnea Sarma, Dr.
Oberassistentin (Lecturer)

Political Geography

Tel.: 044 635 54 44
Room number: Y25 L 78


Keywords: Borderlands, Resource Frontiers, Inter-Asian Studies, Northeast India, China, Myanmar (Burma)

I am a political geographer of Asian borderlands and frontiers with a special focus on the interconnected geographies between Northeast India, Northern Myanmar (Burma), and Southwest China. I received my Ph.D. from the National University Of Singapore (NUS) in Comparative Asian Studies. Before joining UZH, I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), the National University of Singapore. I have lived in and held research fellowships at Beijing, Kunming, Taipei, Yangon, and New Delhi.




My research is on borderlands and frontiers, from a cross-border, comparative, and convergent-historical perspective. I study spaces as sites of ‘concentrated frontiers,’ where not only do they appear in the (artificial) demarcation of border territories; but also where resource extraction, shadow economies, and state or capitalist projects (such as infrastructures and connectivity) take shape to create new borders of control, surveillance, development, and flows. I am especially interested in the spatial politics of greyness and messiness that turn borderlands into both highly extractable and highly creative spaces of flows and transnational imaginaries.


My research builds on ethnographic empirical methods, long-term qualitative fieldwork (in collaborations with translators and field researchers), and cartographic representation (GIS) -- guided by critical political geography, ecology, and feminist theories. Apart from English, I work and conduct interviews in other Asian languages, namely Assamese, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, Bengali, Nagamese, and some Burmese.

Current Projects


Book Project


I am writing my first book on the aforementioned frontiers and flows from doctoral fieldwork conducted in Northern Myanmar (Shan, Kachin, and Chin states), Northeast India (Mizoram), and Southwest China (Yunnan) between 2016-19. The book offers five ethnographies examining and narrating how extractive economies, resource frontiers, and connectivity infrastructures have transformed spaces, lives, ecology, mobility, and resistance in the borderlands Myanmar shares with two of its biggest resource-hungry and securitizing neighbors, India and China. It also traces how people (ethnic groups, displaced peoples, refugees, rebels); ideologies (self-determination, ethnonationalism, indigenous land rights); commodities (weapons, wildlife, smuggled, contraband, and extracted goods) flow in and out of unlikely places on an everyday basis.


Connectivity & Infrastructures on Myanmar’s Borderlands


A set of my ongoing papers traces the footprints of Chinese-funded projects in China’s southeast Asian backyards, particularly the borders of Myanmar. This research is based on ethnographic fieldwork in border trading zones, agri-business plantations, connectivity project sites (under the BRI), SEZs, and militia/EAO (ethnic armed groups) controlled areas. They offer insights into how Chinese infrastructures are met by local populations on the ground. As a comparative, I have also published ethnographic work on Indian-funded infrastructure and connectivity projects in Myanmar’s borderlands where new roads, although looked upon as aspirational promises by local ethnic populations, have nonetheless displaced refugees out of their safe-spaces.


Surveillance and Security-scapes


A set of ongoing and published projects examines how public and private security/surveillance providers (such as military, paramilitary, mercenary, and private security operatives; fences, biometrics, and citizenship determination infrastructures) become spatially entangled with sites of extraction, dispossession, violence, and disenfranchisement in borderlands and 'bordered' urban spaces. Papers linked to this project examined private security players in Myanmar's commercial capital, Yangon, or the narratives of state security forces on the India-Bangladesh borders. New papers continue to build on this work through comparative studies on security services from the ceasefire and active armed organizations in the context of Northern Myanmar and Northeast India.


Feminist Methods in the Life Cycle of Research


In a collaborative project, I am working alongside a network of feminist social scientists on a web-based monograph that guides early-career researchers on feminist approaches to the life-cycle of research projects and careers, from getting a PhD. to doing fieldwork, publishing, activism, and navigating through peer-reviews.


Inter-Asian Wildlife Demand and Supply Ethnographies


I am working on a new project that attempts to produce intimate ethnographies of individuals (such as poachers, middlemen, traders, consumers, and smugglers) who are involved in the supply and demand networks of endangered wildlife poaching/trade -- from the supply sites in Northeast India (Assam, Nagaland) to transport hubs and demand markets of East and Southeast Asia (Myanmar, China, and Vietnam.) This springs from my work on illicit border trading centers and frontiers in the same regions, and from growing up in the parts of Assam where animals are poached (significantly the one-horned rhino, elephants, leopards, and tigers); but also where small-time, often desperate poachers are killed 'on-sight' or/and arrested. Collaborators from Assam and Nagaland (India), Myanmar, China, and Vietnam working on the routes and networks of wildlife and conservation geographies/ethnographies are very welcome to get in touch to learn more about this project.



Ph.D. in Comparative Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

MA in East Asian Studies, University Of Delhi

BA (Honours) in Political Science, Lady Shri Ram College 

Chinese Language Certification, National Taiwan University

Other Affiliations


Non-residential Research Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University Of Singapore. 

Editorial collective, Tea Circle -- A Forum of New Perspectives on Myanmar (Burma).

Research Interests, Teaching, and Supervision


  • Border, Borderlands, Boundaries, and Frontiers.
  • Political-Geography, Ecology and Critical Development.
  • Feminist Ethnography, Methods, and Praxis.
  • Surveillance, Private Security, and Militarisation.
  • Inter-Asian Studies (Northeast India, Myanmar (Burma), Southwest China.)
  • The Mobile Lives of resources and commodities.
  • Belonging and Citizenship.

Recent Publications

Sarma, J., Faxon, H. O., & Roberts, K. B. (2022). Remaking and Living with Resource Frontiers: Insights from Myanmar and Beyond. Geopolitics, 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/14650045.2022.2041220


Sarma, J. (2021). The edge of Kaladan: A ‘spectacular’ road through ‘nowhere’ on the India-Myanmar borderlands. In L. Heslop & G. Murton (Eds.), Highways and Hierarchies (1st ed., pp. 125–154). Amsterdam University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9789048552511.006



Sarma, J. & Kapoor R. (2021) Special Report. ‘The Myanmar Coup, Resistance, and India’s Response: Fractured Between Words and Deeds’, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University Of Singapore.


Sarma, J., & Sidaway, J. D. (2019). Securing Urban Frontiers: A View from Yangon, Myanmar. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 1468-2427.12831. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.12831


Krichker, D., & Sarma, J. (2021). Can Borders Speak to Each Other? The India–Bangladesh, and Spain–Morocco Borders in Dialogue. Journal of Borderlands Studies, 36(5), 813–831. https://doi.org/10.1080/08865655.2019.1676813



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