Rituals of Ethnicity
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Rituals of Ethnicity
Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India

Sara Shneiderman

328 pages | 6 x 9 | 24 illus.
Cloth 2015 | ISBN 978-0-8122-4683-4 | $75.00s | £49.00 | Add to cart
Ebook 2015 | ISBN 978-0-8122-9100-1 | $75.00s | £49.00 | About | Add to cart
A volume in the Contemporary Ethnography series
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"An entirely unique and stunning ethnography. Shneiderman finds herself assisting the Thangmi's drive to manifest their distinctiveness and seek recognition. She manages a high-wire performance herself: one full of compassion, acute theoretical insight, exemplary balance, and respect for the sacredness of the quest—doing as much credit to ethnography as a craft as to the Thangmi as a people. Few have been as fortunate in their ethnographer as the Thangmi."—James C. Scott, Yale University

"Brilliant and original, Rituals of Ethnicity traces how identity, ethnicity, and indigeneity are constructed by members of a marginalized group within different state structures. Arguing for the importance of often self-conscious rituals for mobilizing and objectifying ethnicity, Shneiderman shows how anthropology too can be marshalled for this project, recasting ethnography as a variety of ritualized performance."—Kirin Narayan, The Australian National University

Rituals of Ethnicity is a transnational study of the relationships between mobility, ethnicity, and ritual action. Through an ethnography of the Thangmi, a marginalized community who migrate between Himalayan border zones of Nepal, India, and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, Shneiderman offers a new explanation for the persistence of enduring ethnic identities today despite the increasing realities of mobile, hybrid lives. She shows that ethnicization may be understood as a process of ritualization, which brings people together around the shared sacred object of identity.

The first comprehensive ethnography of the Thangmi, Rituals of Ethnicity is framed by the Maoist-state civil conflict in Nepal and the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland in India. The histories of individual nation-states in this geopolitical hotspot—as well as the cross-border flows of people and ideas between them—reveal the far-reaching and mutually entangled discourses of democracy, communism, development, and indigeneity that have transformed the region over the past half century. Attentive to the competing claims of diverse members of the Thangmi community, from shamans to political activists, Shneiderman shows how Thangmi ethnic identity is produced collaboratively by individuals through ritual actions embedded in local, national, and transnational contexts. She builds upon the specificity of Thangmi experiences to tell a larger story about the complexities of ethnic consciousness: the challenges of belonging and citizenship under conditions of mobility, the desire to both lay claim to and remain apart from the civil society of multiple states, and the paradox of self-identification as a group with cultural traditions in need of both preservation and development. Through deep engagement with a diverse, cross-border community that yearns to be understood as a distinctive, coherent whole, Rituals of Ethnicity presents an argument for the continued value of locally situated ethnography in a multisited world.

Cover art: Lost Culture Can Not Be Reborn, painting by Mahendra Thami, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India

Sara Shneiderman is a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology and the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia. She was previously on the faculty at Yale University.

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