I am a socio-cultural anthropologist with long-term ethnographic commitments in the Himalayas and South Asia (Nepal, India, and Tibetan areas of China), and emerging research engagements in British Columbia, Canada. I serve as Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology as well as in UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs/Institute of Asian Research. Broadly speaking, my research explores how social transformation is shaped by dynamics of citizenship and belonging (in relation to Indigenous, ethnic, religious and gender identities); cross-border mobility; conflict and political mobilization; territory and land use; development discourses and practices; and disaster aftermath and preparedness. Current research projects include a transdisciplinary SSHRC Partnership Development Grant focused on Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction; an ethnography of “post-conflict” state restructuring in Nepal; an exploration of trans-Himalayan citizenship across the historical and contemporary borders of India, China, and Nepal; participation in a University of Toronto-based project on infrastructure and development in Nepal’s agrarian districts; and collaboration in a Yale University-based project on urbanization and land use change in the Himalayas. I am in the early stages of two new research projects in British Columbia: one focused on the sociopolitical dimensions of disaster preparedness and governance; and the other about Nepali-Canadian experiences, in collaboration with the Nepal Cultural Society of BC.
My first book is titled Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). 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 are donated to organizations supporting Thangmi communities of Dolakha and Sindhupalchok to rebuild after the 2015 earthquakes devastated their villages.
Darjeeling Reconsidered: Histories, Politics, Environments (Oxford University Press, 2018) is a volume that I co-edited with Townsend Middleton (University of North Carolina). 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 following programs at UBC: the Hampton Fund, the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, and the Fostering Research Partnerships Fund.
At UBC, I serve on the Steering Committee of the UBC Himalaya Program, through which I coordinate a Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF) grant (2017-2020_ to further develop the Himalaya Program’s community-engaged language courses in Nepali and Tibetan, and related interdisciplinary course offerings in Himalayan Studies. I am also a member of the Executive Committee of the Centre for India and South Asia Research, for which I served as Co-Director from 2017-2019. In 2017-2018 I was a Wall Scholar at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.
I am currently engaged in four major research projects:
Expertise, Labour and Mobility in Nepal’s Post-Conflict, Post-Disaster Reconstruction: Construction, Law and Finance as Sites of Social Transformation is funded by a three-year Social Science and Humanities Council (SSHRC) Partnership Development Grant that began in mid-2017. The grant focuses on assembling an international network of scholars, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations that are currently engaged with Nepal’s reconstruction after its devastating 2015 earthquakes, and build research capacity in Canada and Nepal in order to investigate and improve post-disaster reconstruction in mountainous regions, especially in contexts of ongoing political transformation.
Restructuring Life: Citizenship, Territory, and Religiosity in Nepal’s State of Transformation
Funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and a UBC Hampton Faculty Fellowship from 2014-2017, this project is an ethnography of post-conflict state restructuring that seeks to understand how Nepali citizens experienced the process of state transformation from the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the decade-long civil conflict between Maoist and state forces until the 2015 constitutional promulgation. It also includes an exploration of trans-Himalayan citizenship across the historical and contemporary borders of Nepal, India, and Tibetan areas of China. I am currently completing in the analysis and writing phase of this project.
Infrastructures of Democracy: State-Building as Everyday Practice in Nepal’s Agrarian Districts
I am a co-investigator on this project five-year project which is based at the University of Toronto, and led by Professor Katharine Rankin. Through a focus on infrastructure governance, the research explores how everyday practices at the sub-national scale constitute state building, and how they enable or constrain transformative social change. Infrastructures of Democracy references the contested physical infrastructures (especially the project’s topical focus on rural roads), as well as the social infrastructures through which governance transpires and aspirations for democracy are pursued. In so doing, the research engages with the interdisciplinary literatures on the ‘politics and poetics of infrastructure’ (Larkin 2013) and on the governmentality and cultural politics of development.
Urban growth, land-use change, and growing vulnerability in the Greater Himalaya mountain range across India, Nepal and Bhutan.
I am a collaborator on this project with principal investigator Karen Seto at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, co-investigator Alark Saxena at Yale University, co-investigator Mark Turin at UBC, and collaborator Prakash Tiwari at Kumaun University, and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal.
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.
Please visit the following page for my publications organized by category:
2017-present Principal Investigator on the SSHRC Partnership Development Grant “Expertise, Labour and Mobility in Nepal’s Post-Conflict, Post-Disaster Reconstruction: Construction, Law and Finance as Sites of Social Transformation”
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
I currently supervise the following doctoral students at UBC: