Seminar – 16 May – Anastasia Piliavsky

May 5th, 2017 by anna.c


Tuesday 16  May 2017

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Anastasia Piliavsky

University of Cambridge

Masterhood, hierarchy and political responsibility in North India’s democratic politics

Idioms of masterhood, patronage and kingship in India’s popular politics have prompted suggestions that India is not a true representative democracy, where sovereign citizens hold politicians responsible for delivering what they want, but a top-down system of inequality and coercive rule. I suggest that, to the contrary, the democratic process I have observed over a dozen years across rural and urban northern India, is robustly representative. What confuses external analysts is the fact that here hierarchy – and the hierarchical master-servant relations – which we treat as democracy’s greatest foe, is itself the core structure of representation and mechanism of political responsibility. I show that to place demands on politicians and hold them responsible, voters deliberately and insistently elevate leaders above themselves as patrons or masters. It is precisely through this relation that they can demand political responsibility. My ethnography further challenges the equation of power and status, which is widely assumed in social analysis today – the idea that the higher a person stands the more power they have over others. I show that hierarchy, as a structure of expectations, upturns this formulation. Superiors have more power, but they also bear a greater degree of responsibility, an idea that gives those below great leverage over political grandees, who must act according to their standing. These are, of course, ideal horizons, but their force is not diminished by the difficulty of their attainment.

Seminar – 2 May – Charlotte Bruckermann

April 27th, 2017 by anna.c


Tuesday 2  May 2017

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Charlotte Bruckermann

Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

The Mistress of the Hearth: female mobility, domestic divinities, and reproductive power in North Central China

Anthropological concepts of masterhood and hospitality are particularly elaborated among highly mobile people whose movements put them into constant contact with strangers to whom they may extend hospitality and thereby assume sovereignty over these guests. In the sedentary Han Chinese context, offering kindnesses to strangers as hospitality is deemed less important than hosting known relations. For instance, humans host deities as their masters, and thereby extend the male household or community hosts’ sovereignty over attendees. This paper examines how this interplay between mobility and hosting plays out for Chinese women in north-central Shanxi Province, where women’s sociality is ruptured by mobility as they move at marriage and become outsiders of the patrilineages for whom they bear offspring. Women subvert their outsider status within Chinese kinship by appealing to a divine mistress of the hearth both as a stranger and as kin. Women also compete to extend their sovereignty over kin across domestic divides by hosting celebrations of their reproductive powers and thereby claim offspring. The analytical crux between female mobility and the mistress/hostess reveals the subversive potential of being both stranger and kin, situated both outside of and at the centre of reproduction

Lunchtime seminar – 26 April – Tinley Namgyal

April 20th, 2017 by anna.c

A lunchtime seminar will be held in the Mond Building Seminar Room, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF

Wednesday 26 April 2017, 12.30–1.30

All welcome

Tinley Namgyal

Independent Researcher, Tibet Autonomous Region

The revival of a Milarepa shrine in Tibet: a first hand account

Abandoned during the Cultural Revolution, the holy shrine of Trakar Taso in south-western Tibet was gradually revived in the late 1980s. Linked to the great Tibetan mystic Milarepa (c. 1052 – c. 1135 CE), this site was famous as a pilgrimage destination, a monastery and an early printing house. As such it appears in many historical accounts and its revival has had a huge symbolic significance. In this extra seminar, one of the protagonists of this process will offer an account of his experience as a rare opportunity to explore the interface between Tibetan civil society and the state in the management of Tibetan cultural heritage.

MIASU and the Centre of Ethnographic Theory Seminar Series – Masterhood, Hospitality and Mobility

April 4th, 2017 by anna.c

The Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit (MIASU) at Cambridge has partnered with the Centre of Ethnographic Theory (SOAS) for a Seminar series (2016-2017) titled “Masterhood, Hospitality, and Mobility.”

The notion of the ‘master/owner’ (Mong. ezen, Tib. bdag) is extraordinarily prevalent across Inner Asia. It appears not only as a multi-scalar idea in social realms, as a way of conceptualising the ruler of a state, guardian of property, host, or manager of a household; it is also evidently a cosmological notion, spanning a vast range from spirit owner or master of a territory to the ‘masters’ of wild animal species, geological formations, or even human-made implements. This master/owner concept is relational, and it implies many of the positional switches found in hospitality: the generosity to others, including strangers, expected of the host, but on the cosmological plane something like a reversal, when offerings are made by a human host to an invited master or owning spirit to give thanks or in hope of gaining favour. The ambiguity about who (when) is a host/master/owner, and who the guest, may be related – we suggest for debate – to the nature of a mobile society, where both human and spirit masters/owners circulate. These alternating relations we suggest may bear on seemingly paradoxical concepts of landscape, in particular understandings of the sacred sites where spirit masters hold sway, such as the Mongolian oboo, the Tibetan lha-tse, the Tyvan ovaa or the Buriat barisa, where it is characteristic for such a site to be seen both as a centre and as a boundary marker. Following the idea that some regions provide the opportunity to pursue particular problems in anthropological theory, we would like this seminar to pose the idea of the ‘master/owner’ as a concept-cum-heuristic. We aim in this way to reflect on the wider potential of ethnographic theory emerging from Inner Asia as a path to reconfiguring debates on the relation between place and power, incorporation and exclusion, cosmology and action and examine how these concepts and subjectivities are reproduced or domesticated by gendered rituals practices and strategies of alliance in the region.

See poster for details of the upcoming talks in the series during the Easter term:

masterhood 2017

Seminar – 7 March – Uradyn Bulag

February 27th, 2017 by anna.c


Tuesday 7  March 2017

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Uradyn Bulag

University of Cambridge

Visible and Invisible ‘Masters’ of Ethnic Regional Autonomy in China

China is now bracing itself  for the 70th anniversary of its first provincial level autonomous region, Inner Mongolia, founded on the 1st of May 1947. While there will be no shortage of celebration of achievements, I propose that the anniversary provides an opportune moment to examine the nature of China’s ‘nationality regional autonomy’ system. Who will host the congratulatory delegations from the national capital and other provinces and autonomous regions? This is a key question because the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is officially defined as a multinational autonomous region with the Mongols as the core/master (zhuti) nationality, and the Han Chinese as the majority (duoshu) nationality. While the tension between the two major entities has been resolved through making one (Mongol) visible and the other (Han Chinese) invisible, we now see open calls for reversing the order, so as to make the majority Han Chinese commensurate with the principle of majoritarian democracy within the autonomous region and their status as the core/master nationality of China at large. In this regard, I will examine two cases of hosting, one by Han Chinese leaders at the national level hosting minority leaders in the early 1950s, and the other by Mongol leaders hosting Han Chinese intellectuals in the early 1960s. These cases show that inter-ethnic relationship within an autonomous area, or between an autonomous nationality and the Chinese central state has become as much one of host-guest relationship as one of master-slave relationship.  This conflation suggests that sovereignty (zhuquan, lit. master’s right), both ‘national sovereignty’ in relation to the margin of the state, and ‘ethnic sovereignty’ in relation to other groups within an autonomous area, imply conquest and counter-conquest.