Reframing Ethnicity by Sara Shneiderman
Reframing Ethnicity: Academic Tropes, Recognition Beyond Politics, and Ritualized Action Between Nepal and India
by Sara Shneiderman
Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork across the Himalayan borders of Nepal and India, I revisit disciplinary debates about ethnicity. I focus on the expressive production of ethnic consciousness among members of the Thangmi (Thami) community in a context of high cross-border mobility. I argue that ethnicity is the result not only of the prerogatives of state control or market forces but also of a ritual process through which identity itself is produced as a sacred object that binds together diverse members of the collectivity. Thangmi participation in a range of ritualized actions demonstrates how mobility across national borders yields a high level of self-consciousness about the efficacy of each form of action as well as of the frames within which action unfolds. Ethnicity may be understood simultaneously as a historically contingent process and a wellspring of affectively real cultural content, enabling us to make better sense—in both scholarly and political terms—of emergent ethnic claims in South Asia and beyond.
Appears in: American Anthropologist 116(2), 279-295, June 2014.