I am a socio-cultural anthropologist working in the Himalayan regions of Nepal, India, and China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region. My research explores the relationships between political discourse, ritual action, and cross-border mobility in producing ethnic identities and shaping social transformation. Current research projects include an ethnography of “post-conflict” state restructuring in Nepal that focuses on lived experiences of citizenship, territory and religiosity since 2006, and an exploration of trans-Himalayan citizenship across the historical and contemporary borders of India, China, and Nepal. In the wake of Nepal’s April and May 2015 earthquakes, I was engaged in relief efforts focused on rural areas, and continue to participate in public debate and practice in this domain.
My first book is titled Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India. An ethnography focusing on the cross-border circulation of Thangmi people and their ideas about ethnic, national, religious and political identity, Rituals of Ethnicity offers new explanations for the powerful persistence of ethnicity as a category of identification today despite the increasing realities of mobile, translocal lives. The book is based on over a decade of ethnographic research with diverse members of the Thangmi community in the Dolakha and Sindhupalchok districts of central-eastern Nepal, as well as in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, India, and the neighboring state of Sikkim. All royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to organizations supporting Thangmi communities of Dolakha and Sindhupalchok to rebuild after the earthquakes devastated their villages.
I have also published several articles on the themes of Nepal’s Maoist movement; ethnic classification, affirmative action, and the politics of recognition in South Asia; and borders and citizenship in the Himalaya. I am currently preparing another manuscript that presents Thangmi ritual texts in Nepali and English translation. This is a collaborative project with an indigenous Thangmi researcher, a Nepali translator, and a linguistic anthropologist.
Multimedia technologies are at the core of my ethnographic methodology, and I am a founding member of the Digital Himalaya Project.
I received my PhD (2009) and MA (2004) from Cornell University, following a BA with Honors from Brown University in both Anthropology and Religious Studies (1997). Before coming to UBC I was an Assistant Professor in Anthropology and South Asian Studies at Yale University from 2011-2014, and a Research Fellow at St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge, from 2009-2011. My research has been funded by the Fulbright Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies/Mellon Foundation, the British Academy, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the UBC Hampton Fund.
My earliest research focused on women’s religious identities in the Mustang district of central-western Nepal. In the late 1990s, I began working with members of the Thangmi community in Dolakha and Sindhupalchok districts in central-eastern Nepal, later expanding that work to India’s state of Sikkim and Darjeeling district of West Bengal. This long-term, ongoing ethnographic engagement has come to fruition in my 2015 book, Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India, as well as in several articles and book chapters that may be found on my publications page.
Nepal’s Maoist insurgency gained force while I was conducting research with the Thangmi. By chance, I had the opportunity to observe their expansion into eastern areas of Nepal, like Dolakha district, from a village-based vantage point. This experience resulted in several publications that considered motivations for joining the Maoist movement, broader social experiences of it from an ethnographic perspective, and its long-term prospects for social transformation.
In 2012, I completed work on a British Academy funded UK-South Asia partnership project entitled “Inequality and Affirmative Action in South Asia: Current Experiences and Future Agendas in India and Nepal”. This resulted in a major conference in Kathmandu in July 2012, which I co-convened in collaboration with the Tribhuvan University Central Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Social Science Baha, a radio series broadcast in Nepal and a co-edited (with Alpa Shah) theme issue of Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, “Toward an Anthropology of Affirmative Action” which focuses on South Asia.
I am currently engaged in two ongoing projects: an ethnography of “post-conflict” state restructuring and social transformation in Nepal that focuses on lived experiences of citizenship, territory and religiosity since 2006 (funded by Wenner-Gren Foundation and a UBC Hampton Grant), and an exploration of trans-Himalayan citizenship across the historical and contemporary borders of India, China, and Nepal. Since Nepal’s earthquakes of April and May 2015, my existing work on state restructuring and social transformation has expanded to engage with new dynamics of environmental transformation, and document state-society negotiations over reconstruction. All royalties from the sale of Rituals of Ethnicity will be donated to organizations supporting Thangmi communities to rebuild.
2016-present Co-investigator on the SSHRC Insight Grant “Infrastructures of Democracy: Post-conflict transition and state building in Nepal’s agrarian districts”; PI Katharine Rankin, University of Toronto (Geography)
2014 The Hampton New Faculty Grant, UBC
2014 Wenner-Gren Foundation Post PhD Grant for the project “Restructuring Life: Citizenship, Territory and Religiosity in Nepal’s State of Transformation”
2013 Frederick W. Hilles Publication Grant for Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities Across Himalayan Borders (University of Pennsylvania Press),Whitney Humanities Center, Yale
2012-2013 Grant for the conference Himalayan Connections: Disciplines, Geographies, Trajectories from the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Fund, Yale University (with Andrew Quintman, Department of Religious Studies) – held in March 2013
2011 Grant for the project Cross-Border Ethnic Identities in the Himalayas: Cataloguing an Archive from the Griswold Research Fund, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University
2009-2012 British Academy UK-South Asia Partnership Award Inequality and Affirmative Action in South Asia: Current Experiences and Future Agendas in India and Nepal
2009 Grants for the project Thangmi Ritual Texts from the Frederick Williamson Fund for Himalayan Research and the Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research
2008-2009 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)/Mellon Foundation Dissertation Completion Fellowship
2008-2009 American Association for University Women Dissertation Fellowship (declined)
2007 Cornell University Graduate School Sage Fellowship
2005-2007 Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship
2005-2006 Wenner-Gren Foundation Individual Research Grant (declined)
2005-2006 Council of American Overseas Resource Centers Multi-Country Research Fellowship (declined)
2001-2006 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in Anthropology
2003 Einaudi Center for International Studies China Travel Award, Cornell University
2002 Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS), Cornell University Tibetan Language
2001-2003 Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS), Cornell University Nepali Language
1999-2000 Fulbright Fellowship At-Large, Nepal
1997 Phi Beta Kappa, Brown University
1997 Magna Cum Laude, Brown University
1997 Bishop McVickar Prize for best honors thesis in Religious Studies, Brown University
1996 Bishop McVickar Prize for best student paper, Religious Studies, Brown University
1996 Office of International Programs Photo Competition Award, Brown University
1995 Faculty Scholar, Brown University