Prof. Christine Bichsel


Phone: +41 26 300 92 46 | Fax: +41 26 300 97 46

E-mail: christine.bichsel(at)

Office: 327.2

Function: Professor in Human Geography

Personal Info

Academic Qualification

PhD thesis at Institute of Geography, University of Berne, Switzerland
1999 Diploma theses at Institute of Geography, University of Berne
Baccalaureate at Gymnasium Burgdorf, Type E (law and economy)


Professional Experience

Senior researcher, University of Fribourg
2009 Postdoctoral researcher, University Priority Research Programme ‘Asia and Europe', University of Zürich
2008-2009 Visiting researcher, Department of Geography, University of Singapore
2002-2006 PhD candidate and researcher, swisspeace / Swiss Peace Foundation, Berne

International work experience

Consultancy for German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) in programme “Reform of Educational Systems in Central Asia” (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan)
2007 Consultancy for German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) in “Capacity Building Project for Food Security, Regional Cooperation and Conflict Mitigation” (Kyrgyzstan)


Funding record

2016-2018 Project 10001A_162393 (funded by Swiss National Science Foundation)
Ambizione grant (funded by Swiss National Science Foundation)
2009 Fellowship for Postdoctoral Research (funded by University Priority Research
Programme Asia and Europe / University of Zurich)
2008 Prospective Researcher grant (funded by Swiss National Science Foundation)

Professional Affiliation

Member of Central Eurasian Studies Society (since 2008)
SAG Member of Schweizerische Asiengesellschaft (since 2012)
ASEEES Member of Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (since 2014)
ESEH Member of European Society for Environmental History (since 2014)



Bachelor Level

GG.0305 Politische Geographie (SP 2013 / SP 2014 / SP 2015 / SP 2016)
GG.0318 Geographie der Umwelt (SA 2013 / SA 2014 / SA 2015)
GG.0361 Camp intégratif (SP 2015)

Master Level

GG.0473 Global Change, Development & Ethics (SP 2012 / SP 2014)
GG.0474 Project in Human Geography (SP 2013 / SP 2015)
GG.0530 Field Course Central Asia (SA 2013)
GG.0472 Environmental social methods (with O. Ejderyan) (SA 2011 / SA 2013)
GG.0409 Models, modelling and representation (with M. Hölzle) (SA 2013 / SA 2014 / SA 2015)
GG.0485 Environmental History (SP 2016)


Ottavia CIMA, University of Fribourg (PhD candidate)
Marco LUPATINI, University of Fribourg / Scuola Universitaria Professionale della Svizzera Italiana (SUPSI) (PhD candidate)
Katerina ZÄCH, University of Fribourg (PhD candidate)


- Political Geography

- Environmental History

- Reflexive methodologies (ethnography / archive)

- Critical water studies

- Study regions: Central Asia, Russia



2016-2018. Deconstructing steppe imaginaries in Russian and Soviet artistic and scientific literature from 1890 to 1960 (Project 10001A_162393, Swiss National Science Foundation)

2010-2013. Territory in Socialist Central Asia: A Political Geography of Soviet Modernity, 1953-1982 (Ambizione grant, Swiss National Science Foundation)

2009. Development, subjectivity and territory in Central Asia (University Research Priority Program Asia and Europe)

2008-2009. Developing borderlands: Geographical perspectives on development, state and subjectivity at the Central and Southeast Asian borders (Prospective Researchers grant, Swiss National Science Foundation)



2009. Conflict transformation in Central Asia. Irrigation disputes in the Ferghana Valley. London: Routledge.


Journal Articles

(forthcoming) (with E. Filep) Towards a research agenda on steppe imaginaries in Russia and the Soviet Union. Geography, Environment, Sustainability (in 2018).

2018. (with A. Zinzani) IWRM and the Politics of Scale: Rescaling Water Governance in Uzbekistan. Water 10(3):281. Link.

2017. From dry hell to blossoming garden. Metaphors and poetry in Soviet irrigation literature on the Hungry Steppe. Water History, 9(3): 337-359.) Link 

2016. (with J. Obertreis, T. Moss and M. Mollinga) Water, infrastructure and political rule. Introduction to the special issue. Water Alternatives 9(2): 168-181. Link

2016. Water and the (infra-)structure of political rule: A synthesis. Water Alternatives 9(2): 356-372. Link

2012. ”'The drought does not cause fear'. Irrigation history in Central Asia through James C. Scott's lenses.” Revue d'études comparatives Est-Ouest (RECEO), 44(1-2), pp.73-108

2011. “Liquid challenges. Contested water in Central Asia”. Sustainable Development Law and Policy, XII (1), pp. 24-30. PDF

2005. “In search of harmony: repairing infrastructure and social relations in the Ferghana Valley.” Central Asian Survey, 24 (1), pp. 53-66. PDF


Book Chapters

2013. “Dangerous Divisions: Peace Building in the Borderlands of Post-Soviet Central Asia” In: Korf, B. and T. Raeymaekers (eds) Violence on the Margins. States, Conflict, and Borderlands. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

2011. (with K. Mukhabbatov and L. Sherfidinov). “Land, Water, and Ecology.” In: Starr, F. S. (ed.). Ferghana Valley: The Heart of Central Asia. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe Inc., pp. 253-277.

2010. (with G. Fokou, A. Ibraimova, U. Kasymov, B. Steimann, and S. Thieme). “Natural resource institutions in transformation: tragedy and glory of the private.” In: Hurni H., Wiesmann U., editors; with an international group of co-editors. Global Change and Sustainable Development: A Synthesis of Regional Experiences from Research Partnerships. Perspectives of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South, University of Bern, Vol. 5. Bern, Switzerland: Geographica Bernensia, pp 255–269. PDF

2009. (with S. Mason, T. Hagmann, E. Ludi and Y. Arsano). “Linkages between sub-national and international water conflicts: the Eastern Nile Basin.” In: Brauch, HG. et al. (eds). Facing Global Environmental Change. Environmental, Human, Energy, Food, Health and Water Security Concepts. Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace, Vol. 4. Berlin: Springer.


Edited books and special issues

2016. (guest editor with P. Mollinga, T. Moss and J. Obertreis). Special issue: Water, infrastructure and political rule. Water Alternatives 9(2).


Working PAPERS and Reports

2009. “It’s about more water. Natural resource conflicts in Central Asia.” In: Péclard, D. (ed.). Environmental peacebuilding: Managing natural resource conflicts in a changing world. Berne: swisspeace. PDF

2005. (with S. Hostettler and B. Strasser). “Should I buy a cow or a TV?” Reflections on the conceptual framework of the NCCR North-South based on a comparative study of international labour migration in Mexico, India and Kyrgyzstan. NCCR North-South dialogue. Berne: NCCR North-South. PDF


Review Essays

2017. Violence as a human condition. Recent reflections from the German social sciences.Environment and Planning D 35(3):550-560.


Book Reviews

2015. Review of: „Border work. Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia” (Madeleine Reeves, 2014). Environment and Planning D. Link

2014. Review of: “The Transformation of Tajikistan. The Sources of Statehood.” (Heathershaw, John and Herzig, Edmund (eds), 2012). Europe-Asia Studies.

2013. Review of: “Government of Paper. The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan” (Matthew S. Hull, 2012) Regional Studies, 47 (4), pp.645-646.

2012. Review of: “Making great power identities in Russia. An ethnographic discourse analysis of education at a Russian elite university” (Martin Müller, 2008). Geographica Helvetica (1-2/2012).

2012. Review of: “Along the Archival Grain. Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense” (Ann Laura Stoler, 2009). Journal of Historical Geography, 38 (2), pp. 198-199.

2011. Review of: “Space, Place, and Power in Modern Russia. Essays in the New Spatial History” (Mark Bassin, Christopher Ely and Melissa K. Stockdale, 2010). Ab Imperio, 2, pp. 372-377.

2010. Review of: “Argorods of Western Uzbekistan. Knowledge Control and Agriculture in Khorezm” (Caleeb Wall, 2008). Central Asian Survey, 29 (4), pp. 566-569. 


Other Publications

2006. “Zaghafte Neuorientierung in Kadamschai. Niedergang und Nostalgie in einer südkirgisischen Kleinstadt.” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 25 March 2006. PDF

2005 Hallo Taxi - Mit schönen Frauen spreche ich über die Liebe, NZZ Folio, 11/5. Link




Water and the (infra-)structure of political rule: irrigation in Central Asia. Presented at the School of Geography Seminar Series, University of Melbourne, 24 April 2018, Melbourne, Australia.


From the steppe point of view. Environmental history of the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s. Presented at the 49th Annual Convention of the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), panel “The Green and the Red. Environmental History and Soviet History”, 9-12 November 2017, Chicago, USA.

(with Ekaterina Filep) Dekonstruktsiia predstavlenii o stepnom landshafte v khudozhestvennoi i nauchnoi literature s 1890 po 1960 gg. Invited presentation at Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, 5 October 2017, Moscow, Russian Federation.

Irruption. Rethinking subjectivity through the timespace effects of traumatic flashbacks. Presented at 7th Nordic Geographers Meeting (NGM), panel: “Geography of Trauma: Spatialities, Effects, Inequalities”, 18-21 June 2017, Stockholm, Sweden.


Records of the future. Historical Geographies of a Soviet archive. Presented at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016, Panel “Where Next? Historical Geographies of the Future”, 30 August – 2 September 2016, London, UK.

Wittfogel and beyond: water, infrastructure and political rule on the Hungry Steppe (1950-1980). Presented at 14th European Association for Social Anthropologists (EASA) Biennial Conference, panel “Water and social relations: Wittfogel’s legacy and hydrosocial futures”, 20-23 July 2016, Milano, Italy.

Territory as a brotherly gift. Irrigation development and border changes on the Hungry Steppe, 1950-1970. Presented at conference Empires of Water: Water Management and Politics in the Arid Regions of China, Central Eurasia and the Middle East (16th-20th centuries), panel “Panel 5A: Canals and Colonization: Irrigation and Infrastructure in Authoritarian State-Making, 19th-21st Centuries”, 26-28 May 2016, Hongkong.


Wasser, Infrastruktur und Macht. Presented at Deuscher Kongress für Geographie, Fachsitzung „Geographien der Infrastruktur“, 1.-6. Oktober 2015, Berlin, Deutschland.

Emoting water technology and infrastructure in Soviet Central Asia. Presented at Water History Conference 2015 , panel “Colonial Waters”, 24-26 June 2015, Delft, Netherlands. 

From Generous to Hungry Steppe. Geographical Explorations of Central Asia. Presented at International Geographical Union Regional Conference 2015, panel “Exploring and mapping lands, air and waters. Research on the History of Geographical Explorations”, 17-21 August 2015, Moscow, Russian Federation.

Input for roundtable „Suffizienz in der Schweiz – Impulse durch Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften“, 10. eco.naturkongress „Gut leben: Mit Suffizienz gegen Verschwendung“, 27 March 2015, Basel, Switzerland.


The material politics of infrastructure history. Presented at the 46th Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies “25 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Historical Legacies and New Beginnings”, roundtable “Material Politics: Infrastructure and Energy as New Perspectives on Central Asia”, 20-23 November 2014, San Antonio (TX), USA.

New canals, shifting frontiers. Changes in Central Asia’s internal borders after the Second World War. Presented at the 46th Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies “25 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Historical Legacies and New Beginnings”, panel “Internal Borders in the USSR: When and How Did They Matter”, 20-23 November 2014, San Antonio (TX), USA.

Reshaping motherhood through spatial formations of health care. Presented at RGS-IBG International Conference 2014, session "Spatial formations of expertise: knowing/shaping/reinventing the self", 27-30 August 2014, London, Great Britain.

Water and the (infra-)structure of rule. Presented at Second World Congress of Environmental History 2014 “Environmental History in the Making”, panel “Water, Infrastructure, and Rule; Regional and Historical Perspectives”, 8-12 July 2014, Guimarães, Portugal.


"Those who control the hydraulic network are uniquely prepared to wield supreme power." Wittfogel's hydraulic hypothesis and its reception. Presented at ESEH conference 2013 "Circulating natures: Water-Food-Energy", panel "Hydraulic societies: Karl Wittfogel's hypothesis on the environment, irrigation and statecraft",  20-24 August 2013, Munich, Germany.


 „Migrants“. Settlers from mountain areas to the steppe in a documentary film made in Soviet Tajikistan (1968). Invited presentation at workshop “Mobility and Identity in Central Asia”, 25 – 27 May 2012, Zürich, Switzerland.

Water, Politics and Conflict in Central Asia. Invited talk at roundtable “Water, Politics, and Conflict”, breakout session on International Relations & Politics, Annual Munk School of Global Affairs Graduate Student Conference “Not a Drop To Drink: Water Scarcity and Politics in the 21st Century”, 31 March 2012, Toronto, Canada.

Problemy razvitia Srednei Azii v postsovetskii period. Vsgliady iz Shveitsarii (na primere Ferganskoi doliny i Golodnoi stepi). Invited talk at Mountain Seminar, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, 16 February 2012, Moscow, Russian Federation.


Lost objects. In the realm of the Soviet archive. Presented at RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2011, panel “Me, myself and the archive. Reflecting on encounters and enchantments”, 31 August - 2 September 2011, London, Great Britain.

Von der Hungersteppe zum Neuland. Überlegungen zum Begriff “tselina” in der Tadschikischen SSR (1959-1979). Presented at workshop “Zentralasien: Auf dem Weg in die Moderne? Internationaler Workshop zur Untersuchung einer Konflikt- und Zukunftsregion”, Universität Basel, 26-27 May 2011, Basel.

In the Name of Victory. Turning the Hungry Steppe into “New Land” in Zafarabad, Tajikistan (1959-1979). Public Lecture at University of Central Asia, 17 May 2011, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

In (not so) cold blood. Reflections on ethnography as a methodology for researching conflict. Keynote speech at conference “Studying Conflict and Violence in Central Asia: Academic Traditions and Interdisciplinary Challenges”, American University of Central Asia, 14 May 2011, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

On the territory of the Hungry Steppe. Presented at Geocolloquium, Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, 19 April 2011, Fribourg.


Spatial trialectics. Taking Henri Lefebvre to Soviet Central Asia. Presented at 42th Annual Convention for the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), panel “Contact Zones and Border Zones: Central Asia in the Post-Stalin Soviet Union”, 18-21 November 2010, Los Angeles, USA.

Wasserkonflikte in Zentralasien. Knappe Ressourcen oder umstrittene Grenzen? Invited talk at Tagung „Klimawandel und Konflikte“ of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (AFK), panel „Wasserverknappung als Medium von Konflikt und Kooperation“, 26-28 February 2010, Hamburg, Germany.

Trouble on the Margins. Peace-building in the Borderlands of Post-Soviet Central Asia. Presented at International Workshop ‘Bringing the Margins Back In: War Making and State Making in the Borderlands, 12-14 February 2010, Ghent, Belgium.


Dangerous Divisions: Revisiting Peace-building in the Ferghana Valley. Invited talk at the Seminar of the Centre for Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus, School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), 22 October 2009, London, Great Britain.


Geographies of aid. Peace-building in Central Asia. Presented at Geography Seminar Series of the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, 3 October 2008, Singapore.

Catching the sunlight. Aid workers and moral reasoning in southern Kyrgyzstan. Presented at First Regional Conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS), panel “Ethnographies of Moral Reasoning in Kyrgyzstan”, 4 – 7 August 2008, Choq Tal, Kyrgyzstan.

Water rights in southern Kyrgyzstan. Legal provision and social practices for access to water. Presented at workshop on “Water rights in Central Asia and South Asia”, 24 January 2008, Centre for Development and Environment (ZEF), Bonn, Germany.


Bright future blues: development aid workers and technologies of the self in southern Kyrgyzstan. Presented at 106. Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association “Difference, (In)equality and Justice”, panel “Development of the Developed Second World, 27 November – 5 December 2007, Washington DC, USA.

Wasser ausser Kontrolle? Reflexionen über Bewässerung und postsowjetische Transformation in Kirgistan. [Water beyond control? Reflections on irrigation and post-Soviet transformation in Kyrgyzstan]. Presented at Deutscher Geographentag, panel „Transformationsprozesse in Zentralasien“, 29 September – 5 October 2007, Bayreuth, Germany.

It’s about more water. Natural resource conflicts in Central Asia. Presented at swisspeace Annual Conference “Environmental Peacebuilding: Managing Natural Resource Conflicts in a Changing World”, 13 November 2007, Berne, Switzerland.

Water linking people: examples from the Ferghana Valley. Presented at Centre for Peacebuilding (KOFF) event “Water linking People: The Potential of Water for Cooperation”, swisspeace, 13 June 2007, Berne, Switzerland.

Water and conflict: conceptual and empirical links from the Ferghana Valley. Presented at workshop “Environmental Conflicts: Experiences from Africa and Central Asia”, Europainstitut of the University of Basel, 8 June 2007, Basel, Switzerland.

Poverty, conflict, and water. Guest lecture at OSCE Academy, module “Development Economics, Policy and Practice in Central Asia”, 20 March 2007, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.


Managing competing demands for water: case study from Central Asia. Presented at International Symposium “Desertification and Global Change”, 31 May 2006, Berne, Switzerland.

“The secret service is looking for you” – Researching conflict in Central Asia. Presented at workshop “Personal Security as a Challenge for Field Research: Experiences and Strategies”, swisspeace, 12 April 2006, Berne, Switzerland.


Transboundary water conflicts and their management at community level. Experiences from the Ferghana Valley. Presented at workshop “Transboundary Management of Natural Resources in Transition Countries. Challenges, Potential and Constraints for Swiss Agency of Development Cooperation (SDC) and Partner Organisations”, 17 November 2005, Berne, Switzerland.

White Beards or active citizens? Institutional approaches of the state and international organizations to mitigate conflicts in local southern Kyrgyzstan. Presented at workshop “Civil Society in the South Caucasus and Central Asia: Bridging Research and Practice”, 20 October 2005, London School of Economics (LSE), London, Great Britain.

Conflict transformation and civil society in southern Kyrgyzstan. Presented at 9th European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS) Conference “Central Asia: The Local, the Regional and the Global”, 12 – 14 September 2005, Krakow, Poland.

Weisse Bärte und aktive Frauen: Institutionelle Ansätze von Staat und internationalen Organisationen zur Konfliktlösung in Südkirgistan [White beards and active women: institutional approaches of the state and international organisations for conflict mitigation in southern Kyrgyzstan]. Presented at Forum Entwicklung und Umwelt, University of Berne, 13 March 2005, Berne, Switzerland.


“Repairing canals” – water conflicts & the politics of infrastructure in Batken province, Kyrgyzstan. Presented at Annual Conference of the Swiss Political Science Association, Working Group “Security Policy”, 18 – 19 November 2004, Balsthal, Switzerland.

Ressourcenkonflikte um Wasser auf dem blauen Planeten – ein Paradoxon? [Resource conflicts over water on the blue planet – a paradox?]. Guest lecture at Spring Academy “Wasser – Konfliktstoff des 21. Jahrhunderts” of Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, 21 March 2004, Lambrecht, Germany.


Wasserkonflikte im Ferghana-Tal: Der Fall des Kanals Nourgaziev [Water conflicts in the Ferghana Valley: the case of the canal Nourgaziev]. Presented at Forum Entwicklung und Umwelt, University of Berne, 26 November 2003, Berne, Switzerland.


Unit of Geography - Chemin du Musée 4 - 1700 Fribourg - Tel +41 26 / 300 90 10 - Fax +41 26 / 300 9746
nicole.equey [at] - Swiss University