Current Institutional Affiliation
Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis
From Tibetan Refugees to Transmigrants: Negotiating Cultural Continuity and Economic Mobility through Migration

This research draws upon interdisciplinary approaches to transnational migration to investigate how Tibetan exiles living in India balance (a) individual and household-level desires to achieve socio-economic upward mobility through migration with (b) the community and political-level desire to maintain cultural continuity and ethnic identity. The project will investigate how a new generation of Tibetan exiles has developed a notion of “three homelands”; an imagined Tibetan nation, the refugee settlements in India where they were raised and imbued with a strong sense of Tibetan identity, and North American migration destinations where they seek to attain socioeconomic mobility but in the process risk assimilating to another society. The goal is to demonstrate how transnational practices among Tibetan exiles living in India constitute a form of local agency that operates within a matrix of historical, political, social, economic, and cultural forces. An original contribution will be to explore of how issues of identity and cultural maintenance emerge not just after migrants have moved, but in the migration decision-making process itself. To accomplish this objective, the research seeks to provide concrete empirical insights into transnational practices through a focus on household-level decision making, and thereby avoid the pitfalls of an abstract and dematerialized understanding of transationalism. By focusing on the intersection of economic mobility, migration, and ethnic identity, this research will contribute to the interdisciplinary literature on transnational migration, as well as to the anthropological literature on transnationalism and identity formation.