Research Projects and Interests

Personhood, Power and State-led Development in Rebgong (NE Amdo, SE Qinghai Province) (funded by American Council for Learned Societies Fellowship 2014-2015)

LK Ihapa I began working on this project in the early 2000s, just after China's central leaders launched the Great Develop the West campaign (Ch. Xibu Da Kaifa), producing new dilemmas for Tibetans as circulations of people, money and information intensified in the frontier zone. For this project, I moved to a new, but historically related research site in Rebgong, a few mountain passes to the northwest of Labrang and site of the famous Geluk-sect Buddhist monastery of Rongwo. I carried out the primary fieldwork for this research in 2007-2008, during the tumultuous period leading up to and beyond the widespread Tibetan unrest that spring, the massive Sichuan earthquake, and the great spectacle of the Beijing Olympics. In this research, I deepen my analysis of state-local relations in the frontier zone in the wake of the 2008 state of emergency. I do this by bringing linguistic anthropological approaches to personhood, governance and authority into dialogue with recent interdisciplinary debates about the very nature of human subjectivity and relations with nonhuman others (including deities and material objects).

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Gender and Monastic Revival in Labrang (NE Amdo, SW Gansu province)

CrowdI began working in the famous Tibetan Buddhist monastery town of Labrang (Ch. Xiahe) in 1992, when I first traveled there with Tibetan friends. At the time, those regions had only recently opened to foreign travelers and researchers. Because of the region's former centrality as a powerful monastic polity in dialogue with other imperial powers, I was interested in understanding how Tibetans in Labrang were rebuilding and transforming their communities after the collective trauma of socialist transformation (1950s-70s) and in light of the massive transformations of the 1980s 'reform and opening up' era. Drawing on feminist and postcolonial theory in anthropology and related disciplines, I argued in a variety of publications that the cultural politics of ethnicity, nationalism, monastic revival and state-led economic development were fundamentally gendered processes shaping the lives of both men and women in powerful, but sometimes deeply ambivalent ways.

Related Publications/Projects/Courses

  • (2010). "Minzu, Market and the Mandala: National Exhibitionism and Tibetan Buddhist Revival in Post-Mao China." in Faiths on Display, Timothy Oakes and Donald Sutton, eds. Routledge.
  • (2007). The Violence of Liberation: Gender and Tibetan Buddhist Revival in Post-Mao China, University of California Press. Reviewed in: American Ethnologist, The China Journal, J. of American Academy of Religion, Politics and Religion, Asian Studies Review, China Review International, J. of Gender Studies, Gender, Place and Culture. Religious Studies Review.
  • (2005). "Speaking Bitterness: Autobiography, History and Mnemonic Politics on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier," in Comparative Studies in Society and History 47(1): 40-78, January.
  • (2003). "Gendered Boundaries in Motion: Space and Identity on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier," American Ethnologist 30(4) (November ).
  • (2002). "On The Edge of Respectability: Sexual Politics on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier," positions: east asia cultures critique 10(3): 575-630.
  • (1998).  “The Power of the Drunk: Humor and Resistance in China’s Tibet,” Jennifer Dickinson et al, (eds.), Linguistic Form and Social ActionMichigan Discussions in Anthropology 13: 39-79.
  • Course: "Global Tibet," Anth 364, upper level seminar
  • Course: “The Anthropology of Development in Post-Mao China” Anth 365, upper level seminar.
  • Course: "Ethnicity and Gender in China and Tibet," Anth 362, upper level seminar
  • Image Archive: Wrath of the Serfs

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Historiography as Cultural Politics

muralMy approach to sociocultural and linguistic experience as fundamentally dynamic processes has lead me to an ongoing interest in contested history-making (across multiple mediums) in the Sino-Tibetan frontier zone. In recent years I have been exploring and participating in a nascent local history movement among rural Tibetans in Rebgong, as their communities and ways of life encounter intensifying challenges from market forces and state-led development campaigns.

            Related Publications/Projects/Courses

  • (2013). "Rebgong's Klu rol, Historiography, and the Politics of Presence: Methodological Considerations," in Unity and Diversity: Monastic and Non-monastic Traditions in North-east Tibet. Yangdon Dhondup, Ulrich Pagel, Geoffrey Samuels. eds. Leiden: Brill.
  • (2008). "The Politics of Memory: Gender, Autobiography and Maoist Violence in Amdo," Conflict and social order in Tibet and inner Asia, Fernanda Pirie and Toni Huber, eds. Leiden ; Boston: Brill.
  • (2005). "Speaking Bitterness: Autobiography, History and Mnemonic Politics on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier," in Comparative Studies in Society and History 47(1): 40-78, January.
  • Interactive Media: Rent Collection Courtyard
  • Media Archive: Wrath of the Serfs

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Performativity as Semiotic Practice 

163 lhapas divine togetherDrawing on lines of inquiry from American pragmatics to Prague School 'translinguistics', this rubric allows me to bring my training in linguistic anthropology into dialogue with broader debates about the nature of subjectivity, action, power, materiality and meaning. I find in this approach the most illuminating links among studies of language use, performance, ritual and media; it grounds my analysis in my first and second book projects, as well as in several journal articles.

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The Cultural Politics of Sex, Gender and Sexuality

bday party Tibetan girlsComing out of the feminist anthropology collective formed among graduate students at the University of Michigan in the 1990s, my approach to sex, gender and sexuality brings earlier anthropological critiques of biological determinisms into dialogue with more recent feminist, race/ethnicity, and queer theory. In this, I consider femininities, masculinities and their associated sexualities to be foundational sites of person and place-making across scales (from the most intimate of encounters to the most public and transregional relations). This approach grounds my analysis in my first book, as well as several journal articles.

              Related Publications/Projects/Courses

  • (2014). "The Amoral Other: State-led Development and Mountain Deity Cults among Tibetans in Amdo Rebgong," in Emily Yeh and Chris Coggins, eds., Mapping Shangrila: Nature, Personhood, and Polity in the Sino-Tibetan Borderlands. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • (2008). "The Politics of Memory: Gender, Autobiography and Maoist Violence in Amdo," Conflict and social order in Tibet and inner Asia, Fernanda Pirie and Toni Huber, eds. Leiden ; Boston: Brill.
  • (2004).  "The Body of a Nun: Nunhood and Gender in Contemporary Amdo," Hanna Havnevik and Janet Gyatso, (Eds.), Women of Tibet.  New York: Columbia University Press.
  • (2003).  "Gendered Boundaries in Motion: Space and Identity on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier," American Ethnologist 30(4) (November).
  • (2002).  "On The Edge of Respectability: Sexual Politics on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier," positions: east asia cultures critique 10(3): 575-630.
  • (1997).  "The Meaning of Liberation:  Representations of Tibetan Women," The Tibet Journal  22(2): 4-29.
  • Course: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender, Anth 344, upper level seminar
  • Course: Ethnicity and Gender in China and Tibet, Anth 362, upper level seminar
  • Media Archive: Sexism and Racism in Advertising

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