Tibetan nomads have developed a way of life that is dependent in multiple ways on their animals and shaped by the phenomenological experience of mobility. These pastoralists have adapted to many changes in their social, political and environmental contexts over time. From the earliest historically recorded systems of segmentary lineage to the incorporation first into local fiefdoms and then into the Chinese state (of both Nationalist and Communist governments), Tibetan pastoralists have maintained their way of life, complemented by interactions with “the outside world.”
In Pastures of Change: Contemporary Adaptations and Transformations Among Nomadic Pastoralists of Eastern Tibet (Springer, 2018), Gillian Tan, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Deakin University, identifies and analyzes the changes undergone by Tibetan pastoralist society in recent years, the sources of these changes, and the effects produced on Tibetan pastoralists, their lifeways, religious practices, and social structures. Drawing on long-term fieldwork that underscores an ethnography of local nomadic pastoralists, international development organizations, and Chinese government policies, Gillian argues that careful analysis and comparison of the different epistemologies and norms about “change” are vital to any critical appraisal of developments – often contested – on the grasslands of Eastern Tibet. Rapid changes brought about by an intensification of interactions with the outside world call into question the sustained viability of a nomadic way of life, particularly as pastoralists themselves sell their herds and settle into towns. Pastures of Change probes how we can more clearly understand these changes by looking specifically at one particular area of high-altitude grasslands in the Tibetan Plateau.
Maggie Freeman is a PhD student in the School of Architecture at MIT. She researches uses of architecture by nomadic peoples and historical interactions of nomads and empires, with a focus on the modern Middle East.
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