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Professor Makley Wins ACLS Fellowship to Write about Her Work on Tibet

Charlene Makley, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Reed College, has won an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship for her project, “The Politics of Presence: State-Led Development, Personhood and Power among Tibetans in China.” The ACLS Fellowship is competitive—approximately 65 recipients are selected from more than 1020 submissions.

The International Campaign for Tibet has recorded more than 125 self-immolations in Tibet since February of 2009.  These individuals have set themselves on fire to protest the extreme measures taken by the Chinese government in the wake of the Tibetan unrest that occurred in the spring of 2008, during which time Professor Makely was conducting research in the region.

Makley will write about her time in Tibet during this tumultuous period, the massive Sichuan earthquake, and the great spectacle of the Beijing Olympics. She would like her work to bring attention to the underlying causes of the ongoing protests as well as the self-immolations.

Makley began working on the project in the early 2000s, just after China's central government launched the Great Western Development Campaign, which produced new dilemmas for Tibetans as the circulation of people, money, and information intensified in the frontier zone. Her primary fieldwork was conducted in 2007–08 in Rebgong, which is northwest of Labrang and the site of the famous Geluk-sect Buddhist monastery of Rongwo.

“I deepened my analysis of state-local relations in the frontier zone in the wake of the 2008 state of emergency,” said Makley. “I did 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.”

Makley began working in Tibet in 1992, very soon after the region opened to foreign visitors and researchers. A trip with Tibetan friends to Labrang sparked an interest in understanding how Tibetans in that town were rebuilding and transforming their communities after the collective trauma of socialist transformation that began during the 1950s and lasted through the 1970s.