Dor Bahadur Bista Awards

2018 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner

The winner of the 2018 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize for Best Graduate Student Paper is Pearly Wong, for her paper titled, “A Missed Opportunity for Transformation? – An Analysis of Official Climate Change Discourse and Adaptation Strategy in Nepal.” Pearly is a student in a joint PhD program in the Department of Anthropology and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This year’s competition had three strong submissions from three different countries (the US, Canada, and Germany) and three different disciplines (Anthropology, Language & Literary Education, and South Asian Studies).

Pearly Wong’s Abstract:

Despite the highly political process of international climate change negotiations, most efforts in climate change adaptation assume an apolitical, technical policy process (Tanner and Alloche, 2011). The paper examines the different climate justice discourses as well as critical approaches to climate change adaptation, followed by a case study of Nepal, to examine their translation into its national and sub-national policy framework. I conducted qualitative analysis on eight major climate-change related documents by the country, chosen based on availability online, language, and their broader scope of applicability. The result shows that Nepal has adhered to the ‘vulnerability’ and ‘transition’ discourses, which serve as important tools to advocate for support from the international climate change regime. Driven primarily by international processes and guidelines, the climate change policies and documents in Nepal project a heavily technocratic approach with little socio-cultural considerations. Vulnerability is understood as a static property and assessed based on sectors and geographic area, while adaptation is understood as series of actions to be implemented. Overall, the policies demonstrate an apparent lack of political ecology and anthropological perspectives, with the risk of perpetuating the existing systemic ills, as well as impeding imaginaries to pursue more radical socio-political and cultural change as effective adaptation measures.

Keywords: Nepal, climate justice, adaptation, climate change policy, vulnerability

2017 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner

The winner of the 2017 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize for best graduate student paper is Samuele Poletti, for his paper titled, “Horoscopic knowledge and existential narratives: Predetermination and freedom in the Sinja Valley of Jumla District, Nepal”. Samuele is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. This year’s competition yielded five strong papers in five different fields (Social Sciences, Linguistic Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Developmental Studies, and, for the first time as far as we know, Art History), and came from near and far (1 US, 1 Canada, 1 India, and 2 Europe).

Samuele Poletti’s Abstract:

Nepalese people are rarely satisfied by pure coincidence, and astrological divination aims precisely at providing access to the “hidden motifs” attained to determine life events. This brings to the fore a rough account of someone’s future personality, along with the major events that will characterise that particular life. Moreover, it expands the individual drama by assuring the existence of a cosmological design behind the apparently random unfolding of existence. Hindu astrology appears therefore as a form sense-making, taming the wilderness of the world and the irreducibility of the experience in it by providing existential narratives. Conveying yet a beacon of hope to act upon what is initially approached as a hopeless fate, astrological divination forwards the perception that troubling events apparently out of control are liable not only to be endured but also to be acted upon, revealing thus a permanent tension between “determinism” and “freedom”. From an existential perspective, this is a form of resistance against the simple unfolding of life, which here takes the form of an attempt to gain partial control upon the obscure machinations of fate. In light of that, an absolutistic rendering of fatalism in Nepal will not do justice to its people, for, at a closer look, few are those who entirely surrender to their fate. Consequently, divinatory practices may be seen as a sort of “freedom in disguise”.

2016 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner

The winner of the 2016 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize for best graduate student paper is Shae Frydenlund, a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her paper, “Labor Racialization and Territory in Nepal’s Indigenous Nationalities Discourse: moving beyond “tribal” vs “peasant” categories,” introduces material that is theoretically and ethnographically new and engaging. Frydenlund’s was one of five submissions considered in this year’s competition. In addition to Geography, the applicants (1 Masters student, 4 PhD students) represented the fields of Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, and International Development Studies, and are enrolled at universities in the US and the Netherlands. The applicants included one Nepali, one South Korean, and three American students.

Shae Frydenlund’s Abstract
In Nepal, Khaling indigenous nationalities discourse draws our attention to the way tribal and peasant categories blur in articulations of indigeneity, rather than working as separate strategies for gaining greater political rights. Through their oral histories, territorial claims, and most importantly their stories about labor in the Khumbu, activists within the Khaling indigenous nationalities movement advocate for government recognition and fuller political rights. While labor is often left out of definitions of indigeneity, Khaling activists make claims to being indigenous people with their own territory specifically because of their position in the mountain labor hierarchy. This paper examines the emergence of a distinct Khaling indigeneity in the context of broader historical, political and economic processes, specifically Nepal’s racialized ethnic hierarchies, to disrupt bifurcated understandings of “tribal” vs “peasant” trajectories of activism. In understanding the contextual formation of Khaling land claims and indigenous identity, this research sheds new light on the role of racialized labor hierarchies in shaping local and regional articulations of indigeneity, and offers a fresh perspective on indigeneity as concept and political practice in Nepal and elsewhere.


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