University of Tartu: Dissertation by Pema Choedon – “Unseen homeland: the construction of Tibet in the diaspora”

Click here for previous posts about Tibet >

Among the posts in the above-noted list is one entitled:

The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947 (1999) & The Struggle for Tibet (2009)

The topic of Tibet is of interest because among other things, narratives related to it proceed from the vantage point of many ways of seeing. The role which ways of seeing plays in the study of a wide range of topics is also addressed in a recent post entitled:

A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle (2015) and Plant Teachers: Ayahuasca, Tobacco, and the Pursuit of Knowledge (2021) productively bring together two ways of seeing

A summary of the dissertation by Pema Choedon – “Unseen homeland: the construction of Tibet in the diaspora” – reads:

The three articles of the thesis analyze how diasporic Tibetans imagine their homeland, in three different contexts: the State Oracle, the Miss Tibet beauty pageant, and political cartoons. The thesis is interdisciplinary, intersecting with folklore and social anthropology. I depend on social anthropologists in dealing with the concepts of ethnic and national identity, and on folklorists regarding the concepts of tradition and culture. The primary sources are virtual and in-person interviews, online surveys, and fieldwork data. The topics of the articles may seem widely divergent, but in all of them I endeavor to show how diasporic Tibetans construct an imagined Tibet. Tibetans have settled in the West and in Asia, with the majority still living in India. In the diasporic community what is known as ‘Greater Tibet’ encompasses the entire Tibetan Plateau. There is a process of creating a homogenous Tibetan history, culture, and identity, visible in the Miss Tibet pageant. The Tibetan ethno-nationalism fostered by the dominant group in the Tibetan diaspora is highlighted in the pageant, where regional and religious differences between Tibetans vanish, with the young women representing the idea of a unified Tibet. Some Tibetans oppose that idea, and the article on the State Oracle shows this tension growing in the community. What was once a regional oracle has now become the oracle of all Tibetans in the diaspora, irrespective of their religious and regional background. Moreover, the Dalai Lama has become the central element in Tibetan identity construction, so much so that people who go against his policies risk being expelled from the community. I therefore discuss ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ as means by which the dominant majority, believing that the unity of Tibetans will lead to the ultimate goal of a free Tibet, suppresses a minority that challenges that view. The ensuing social tension is discussed in detail in the article on Tibetan political cartoons.

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