Lunchtime Seminar – Jerry Zee – Airborne Dust Event: Experiments on a Chinese Airstream

May 24th, 2016 by anna.c
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A lunchtime seminar will be held in the Mond Building Seminar Room, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF

Tuesday 31 May 2016, 1.00–2.00

All welcome

Jerry Zee

University of California

Airborne Dust Event: Experiments on a Chinese Airstream


At the threshold of the ‘Chinese Century,’ consecutive seasons of frequent and intense dust storms over Beijing revealed decades of Reform as also a new air-condition. Dust storms revealed winds as vectors of meteorological entanglement that bound Beijing to desertifying inland and upwind regions as serial moments in the passing of a floating continent. Meteorological insecurity drives experiments in politics and environment, aimed at an earth all too ready to distribute into the atmosphere. In this paper, I explore state forestry programs to hold the earth to the ground in Alxa, a cradle of dust storms in Beijing’s dust-shed. Through the fortuitous inter-rooting of two plant species, I explore the experimental reconfiguration of regional politics into a machine for creating and proliferating state-sanctioned multi-species landscapes for holding the sand and breaking the wind that make the land a potential aerosol suspension. Along a Chinese airstream, China folds and opens into a terrain of experiments.

Jerry Zee is Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the program in Science and Technology Studies at UC Davis. He received his PhD in anthropology at UC Berkeley. His work explores experiments in politics and environment in China’s meteorological contemporary, where political techniques grapple with wind, sand, and dust. His forthcoming book, States of the Wind explores dust storms, desertification, and environmental repatternings of politics along the path of past and possible storm, from China’s Inner Asian Frontiers to California, weeks away as the wind blows. In 2017, he will start as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Lunchtime Seminar – 25 May – Robbie Barnett

May 19th, 2016 by anna.c
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A lunchtime seminar will be held in the Mond Building Seminar Room, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF

Wednesday 25 May 2016, 12.00–1.00

All welcome

Professor Robbie Barnett

Director, Modern Tibetan Studies
Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

Tibetan New Year on TV in the Fire Monkey Year: The promotion of modernity

The Chunwan, the annual Spring Festival or New Year television gala in China, is the most important show on television each year in China, with reportedly the largest audience of any television program in the world. There are numerous local editions of that show, and this year at least seven different versions were broadcast in Tibetan. This talk looks at two of the shows from Lhasa, and at their part-worship, part-mockery of extreme consumerism, mobile phones, breakdancing, and the loyal Tibetan cadre.

Seminar – 24 May – Brendan Galipeau

May 12th, 2016 by anna.c
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Tuesday 24 May 2016

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Brendan Galipeau

University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Tibetan Wine Production, Landscape Change, and Regional Niche Identities in Shangri-La, China

This paper ethnographically explores Tibetan wine production among communities in Northwest Yunnan Province, where vast areas have been transformed into vineyards for state promoted “Shangri-La Wine,” among other brands marketed using Tibetan culture and “Himalayan serenity.”  Much of this marketing is also based upon a history of Catholic missionaries who first introduced grapes and wine making during the late 19th century.  In the paper I focus on two issues regarding this industry and the changes it has brought: In a particular Tibetan Catholic community, I examine how state promotion of tourism and wine has led to the promotion by villagers of their colonial history and religious culture through the production of wine, and to the transformation of the village agricultural landscape into one heavily defined by vineyards.  In many ways, this village has developed a very specific niche in the larger state sponsored Shangri-La landscape, which I argue is largely driven by household wine production.  Second, I investigate the larger transformation of landscapes by wine and vineyards throughout the region, highlighting the ways in which this state promoted industry has altered both the natural and built agricultural environment.  A particular focus here is on how village agriculture has been heavily moved from one of subsistence defined by the growing wheat and barley (two crops heavily associated with Tibetan identity and culture), to one of cash cropping of grapes.  The paper is also part of a larger dissertation project titled Tibetan Conspicuous Production, exploring how new emergent forms of what I call ethno-regional identities are being created among Tibetan communities in Yunnan through the production and collection of high value luxury commodities for primarily urban Chinese consumption.

Seminar – 10 May – Piers Vitebsky

May 3rd, 2016 by anna.c
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Tuesday 10 May 2016

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Piers Vitebsky

University of Cambridge

Reindeer and Nomads: Departing, Arriving and Casting Time-Shadows

Mobility is not simply imposed by the movement of animals, but also gives a specific quality to the life they share with humans.  The cyclical movement of Eveny reindeer herders reveals an alternating build-up and release of tension as each site is activated by human engagement with its spirits and then becomes dormant again until the following year. In each onward move, pleasure is mingled with sadness to form an indigenous aesthetic as the herder’s intention to travel is matched by the destination’s invitation to arrive. By contrast, the Soviet-imposed village creates a new immobility which thwarts this aesthetic and these emotions, and is perhaps linked to increased violence, depression and suicide.


Seminar – 26 April – Thomas White

April 12th, 2016 by anna.c
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Tuesday 26 April 2016

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Thomas White

University of Cambridge

Nomadism Without the Nomads:  ‘Ecological Pastoralism’ and the Uses of Human-Animal Detachment in Inner Mongolia

Since the 1980s, the privatization of pastureland in Inner Mongolia, China, has significantly reduced the mobility of pastoralists in this arid region. In recent years local governments in Inner Mongolia have also implemented strict stocking limits and grazing bans, as pastoralists and their animals are blamed for the deterioration of the grasslands. The Chinese state now promotes the idea of ‘ecological civility’ (shengtai wenming), and seeks to encourage ‘modernised’ forms of animal husbandry. These involve removing animals from the grasslands and raising them on fodder in pens. Drawing on fieldwork conducted Alasha, in western Inner Mongolia, this paper examines the ways in which this model of animal husbandry is being contested, showing how this has involved a strategic focus on the behaviour of a single animal: the domestic Bactrian camel. Local ethnic Mongolian intellectuals, in collaboration with several prominent Chinese grassland scientists, point to the environmentally beneficial behaviour of the camel when left to roam over a wide area with minimal human intervention. They argue that new technology, such as GPS collars and automatic watering troughs, means that human-animal proximity is no longer necessary, and claim that the ‘nomadic’ (youmu) movement (of animals) is compatible with urbanisation (of herders). In contrast to the recent focus in anthropology on engagement, mutuality and social interaction in human-animal relations, this paper explores practices of human-animal detachment, highlighting their political expediency. It shows how Mongolian traditions of land and animal management are currently being reimagined in the context of the state’s emphasis on ‘ecological civility’.