RESEARCH

China and Tibet

Since 2002 I have conducted fieldwork on the ambivalent place of Tibetans and other subaltern subjects in contemporary modes of Chinese nationalism and transnationalism.  I have paid special attention to the importance of commodified ethnic differences to regional and sub-regional development schemes. In the context of official calls to "develop locally specific economic resources" (fazhan tese jingji), tourism, in the "Tibetan areas" in which I work, has come to be seen as an especially important vehicle for achieving a "relatively well off" society.  One of the ironic side effects of such a development focus has been the elision of non-Tibetan minority and poor local Han inhabitants of the regions in question. My China-based research seeks to lay bare the stakes of both Development and its discontents. Since 2006 I have also conducted research amongst Tibetan migrants in north India, becoming increasingly interested in the effects of migration and displacement on imaginings of community and practices of memory and nostalgia, both in exile and in situ.

Race and Ethnicity

My research on race and ethnicity has two main focuses. The first is the status of China's 55 minority nationalities or shaoshu minzu in discourses of Overseas Chinese-ness. Here I am specifically interested in what the parallelisms between different historical moments of cultivating sentiments of overseas "Chinese-ness" amongst Han and non-Han populations can teach us about the contingency of dominant modes of imagining Chinese-ness in racial and ethnic terms. My 2012 essay in the Journal of Asian Studies  addresses this topic via a comparison of recent (pre-2008) United Front attempts to convert Tibetans living abroad to the Chinese cause, nationally-informed efforts to cultivate nationalist sentiment amongst putatively "Chinese" populations in Southeast Asia during the early years of the Chinese Republic and late imperial itineraries of reform and revolution beyond the empire's borders. A second emphasis in my work on race, ethnicity and the politics of difference more broadly has to do with the complexities of everyday life in a multi-ethnic place on China's northwest fringes.  In my chapter in the volume on Critical Han Studies, I bring recent work on whiteness in the US to bear on the Critical Han Studies project of deconstructing the Han as the unmarked, majority category in contemporary China. Highlighting the importance of intra-ethnic distinctions and inter-ethnic comities to the local workings of difference, I focus particularly on how the processes by which local Han and Tibetans come to recognize common ground in their mutual distrust of the Hui simultaneously highlight the differences between local Han and their more urbane coethnics.

 

Money

I am interested in the historical and spatial dynamics of the relationship between money, equivalence and the universal.  I am also interested in the relationship between number, (in)numeracy and quantitativity and the money form since 1789 as well as in the relationship between money and metrological reform. I approach these topics via historical-cum-anthropological analysis of three specific examples: the disjunctive economic terrain of pre-standard currency America (in which upwards of 7000 different locally issued banknotes were, to some degree, current), the monetary system of 19th century China in which mexican dollars and maria theresa thalers circulated alongside strings of "cash" and uncoined sycee, and the move to decimal currency in commonwealth countries in the second half of the the twentieth century.