Sherpa Intercultural Experiences in Himalayan Mountaineering: A Pragmatic Phenomenological Perspective, by Young Hoon Oh

Oh, Young Hoon. 2016. Sherpa Intercultural Experiences in Himalayan Mountaineering: A Pragmatic Phenomenological Perspective. University of California, Riverside, CA.

Sherpas occupy the key position in contemporary Himalayan mountaineering and related tourism industries across the Himalayan chain. Once engaged merely in carrying loads, they now guide clients and organize expeditions. The transformation has left many foreign mountaineers and commentators disoriented. This is largely due to differences in the characteristic ways in which the Sherpas experience the sport, ways different from those of Western mountaineers, Korean mountaineers, and other Nepalis. The dissertation investigates these distinctive ways of experiencing mountaineering. It is based on nine Korean mountaineering expeditions undertaken following the Sherpas and twenty-five months of ethnographic research, which moved between Kathmandu, South Korea, and Sherpa villages in Walung in northeastern Nepal. By comparing with Western and Korean mountaineers’ understanding of Himalayan mountaineering, it examines how Sherpas take participation in the tourism industry as their vocation, encounter foreign visitors, and deal with global impacts the country is facing. It also proposes an original theoretical framework that analyzes experience without committing to “anthromanticism” or the eurocentric assumption of human nature as discrete mind, body, and community.

The dissertation employs a pragmatic phenomenological perspective, which sheds light on ethico-onto-epistemologies or “cosmic dispositions” in relation to the observer’s perspective. The Sherpas’ cosmic disposition is threefold: individualist collectivism, tantric monism, and open-closed chronology. They regard participation in Himalayan mountaineering as their ethnic vocation and venue for social gathering. Though economic interest is important, the collective appreciation relies on the manner of social relationships. Unlike Western or Korean ideal approach to Himalayan mountaineering, moreover, their understanding considers concrete dimensions of the tourism industry. The Sherpas have increasingly made use of the global nexus with their characteristic ease in the face of unknown and uncertain future. Because the dispositions become distinctive only in relation to others, it also suggests Taoist idealism, Buddhist dualism, and Confucian hierarchy for Korean cosmic disposition as manifested by contemporary Korean mountaineers’ experiences. The pragmatic phenomenological perspective provides a non-eurocentric approach to the transnational, cosmopolitan, and globalizing encounters that take place in the Himalayas.

Contact Info

Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies
c/o John Metz, Treasurer
1586 Rockhurst Lane
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ANHS Kathmandu Research Center
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Kathmandu, Nepal.