Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Third World Quarterly

For a Special Issue on

Ghost projects – ruined futures and the promises of infrastructure development

Abstract deadline
22 March 2024

Manuscript deadline
21 June 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Detlef Müller-Mahn, University of Bonn
[email protected]

Eric Kioko, Kenyatta University
[email protected]

Theo Aalders, University of Bonn
[email protected]

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Ghost projects – ruined futures and the promises of infrastructure development

Many low-income countries are spotted by ruins of development and the sites of projects that never materialized. These “ghost projects” question the teleology of development and its unfulfilled promises. Dams that have been on the agenda for decades, roads that exist only on maps, canals without water – all these more or less invisible phenomena are traces of imagined futures that did not unfold, at least not as planned. While failed or postponed infrastructure projects may be disappointing for planners and developers, this is not necessarily the case for the local communities that would have been most affected if the project had gone ahead. And yet ghost projects are not just things that didn't happen. Even when they do not materialise, they leave traces in terms of follow-up costs, frustration and prolonged uncertainty, but in some cases also opportunities for alternative developments. The contributions to the special issue investigate the history and significance of “ghost projects” especially in the Global South based on empirical examples. They address a number of questions:

  • How do the ruins of failed development projects and the ghosts that haunt them influence contemporary practices of future-making?
  • How common are deviations from original plans, and what does this tell us about the creativity of future-making at local as well as national scales?
  • How are such plans locally appropriated and filled with life?
  • To what extent do “ghost projects” repeat histories of neglect and ruination for marginalized people, and offer openings for contentious re-imaginations of what was and could be?
  • How are visions and “dreamscapes of modernity” translated into practices of future-making, even if the originally aspired future is not achieved?

The special issue makes a contribution to development studies by interpreting “development” in terms of future-making. It revisits the notion of development through the lens of futures studies. By focusing on failed and incomplete development projects, and the unintended side-effects of development, the case studies address such aspects as aspiration and the “capacity to aspire” (Appadurai 2013), “dreamscapes of modernity” (Jasanoff and Kim 2015), “fictional expectations/imagined futures” (Beckert 2016), and “ruination” (Aalders 2020; Lesutis 2022). The geographical focus on the Global South invites contributions to a burgeoning literature on the relationship between failed and abandoned development projects and the “ruins of empire” (Stoler, 2013). Contributions in this special issue study specific infrastructural development projects and the ruins they leave behind. They thus contribute to recent advancements in the critical scholarship of the future by anchoring debates about socially constructed future imaginaries in the concrete and material artefacts left behind by ‘ghost projects’ (see for example: Müller-Mahn, 2020; Ramakrishnan et al., 2021; Yarrow, 2017), with a complimentary focus on “unbuilt or unfinished” projects (Carse & Kneas 2019), and “development in waiting”.


Aalders, J. T. (2021). Building on the Ruins of Empire: The Uganda Railway and the LAPSSET Corridor in Kenya. Third World Quarterly, 42(5), 996–1013.

Appadurai, A. (2004). The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the Terms of Recognition. In V. Rao & M. Walton (Eds.), Culture and Public Action. Stanford University Press.

Beckert, J. (2016). Imagined futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics. Harvard University Press.

Carse, A., & Kneas, D. (2019). Unbuilt and Unfinished: The Temporalities of Infrastructure. Environment and Society, 10(1), 9–28.

Jasanoff, S., & Kim, S.-H. (2015). Dreamscapes of Modernity—Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. The University of Chicago Press.

Lesutis, G. (2022). Disquieting ambivalence of mega-infrastructures: Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway as spectacle and ruination. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 40(5), 941–960.

Müller-Mahn, D. (2020). Envisioning African Futures: Development corridors as dreamscapes of modernity. Geoforum, 115(May), 156–159.

Ramakrishnan, K., O’Reilly, K., & Budds, J. (2021). The temporal fragility of infrastructure: Theorizing decay, maintenance, and repair. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 4(3), 674–695.

Stoler, A. L. (2013). Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination (A. L. Stoler, Ed.). Duke University Press.

Yarrow, T. (2017). Remains of the Future: Rethinking the Space and Time of Ruination through the Volta Resettlement Project, Ghana. Cultural Anthropology, 32(4), 566–591.

Submission Instructions

The guest editors invite contributions that address the topic described in the abstract above, especially by authors from the Global South. Articles with a focus on Asia and Latin America are particularly welcome.

Authors should send their abstracts to the Guest Editors by email using the email addresses listed on this call.

Proposed timeline:

  • March 22nd 2024: Deadline for submitting abstracts to the guest editors
  • May 16th 2024: Submission of articles to the guest editors for an optional internal review
  • June 21st 2024: Final deadline for article submission to TWQ via the journal’s submission portal

Articles selected for the special issue should be no more than 8000 words, inclusive of the abstract, references and endnotes. Please consult the Instructions for Authors on the TWQ website: All articles will be subject to the journal's usual peer review process.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article