Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Geography, University of Colorado / Boulder
Alternative (to) Development on the Tibetan Plateau: The Case of the Anti-Slaughter Campaign

Since Deng Xiaoping's economic reform of the 1980s, the Chinese state has extended and intensified its economic development agenda, trying to shape its citizens to become rational market actors who prioritize commodity production. In Tibetan pastoral areas, this takes the form of efforts to intensify the livestock industry, encouraging herders to increase their off-take rate. As a result, Tibetan herders have become involved in selling ever-larger numbers of yaks to Chinese and Muslim traders. However, reforms also allowed a measure of religious freedom. In the past five years, many lamas (Tibetan Buddhist teachers) have become concerned about the mass sale of livestock for slaughter, because it opposes the Buddhist principle of cause-and-effect, which suggests that killing is a serious sin to be avoided. Using their tremendous influence and authority, these lamas have initiated an anti-slaughter campaign, persuading Tibetans to take oaths to stop selling livestock for slaughter - precisely the opposite of what state development discourses suggest they must do to become "developed." Many Tibetan herders have participated in these campaigns, even though their livelihoods depend heavily on sale of animal products. Despite loss of income, many claim their lives are better off. This research project analyzes this paradox in Hongyuan county, Sichuan, on the eastern Tibetan Plateau, investigating how Tibetan herders and lamas negotiate the imperatives of state and market to articulate their own understanding of development through the anti-slaughter campaign. Through twelve months of ethnographic research, it will examine lamas' motivations, herders' decision-making about the campaign, the culturally specific religious idioms through which development is negotiated, and the relationship between markets, subjectivity, and religious revival.