Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type




This dissertation research, funded by International Dissertation Research Fellowship from Social Science Research Council, investigates how a group of people, who continues to valorize their “statelessness”, critically and actively engages with the powers and policies of host nation-states and international geopolitics to negotiate their individual and collective goals of socio-economic mobility and cultural continuity. Through the study of lived experiences of three generations of Tibetan exiles living as “stateless” people in India, the study investigates historical and contemporary expressions of nation-state, homeland, cultural and ethnic identity within the Tibetan exile communities in India with reference to two distinct phases of migration: the first being forced and historical displacement of 1959 which occurred in the aftermath of China’s assertion of control over Tibet and the consequent social and political upheavals that led to settling of Tibetan refugees in India, and the second displacement, more recent (starting in the 1990s) and voluntary, in the form of transnational migration from the Tibetan settlements in India to North America and Europe.

Much in the recent academics studies on Tibet has focused on the deconstruction of the largely Western manufactured and romanticized image of Tibet and Tibetans. There is a large gap in the literature on how ordinary Tibetan themselves are experiencing and negotiating their individual and collective identities vis-à-vis the Western representations of Tibet and Tibetans. This research study aims to move beyond the heavily romanticized/essentialized images of Tibet and Tibetans in the popular media as well as the current academic studies that have largely focused on the deconstruction of the above images and representational practices. Thus, the entry point of the research is the intersection of economic mobility, international migration, and ethnic identity that transpires in the context of migration decision-making, both at the individual and collective levels.

Eighteen months of dissertation fieldwork was conducted in India from October 2010 to February 2012. The bulk of this dissertation fieldwork was conducted in one of the largest Tibetan settlements in India, a place where Tibetan exiles have reconstructed a new homeland in exile, thereby complicating the idea of “triangular relationship” formed by the diaspora, the host country and the home country and the centrality of the “place of origin” for social and political imagination in transnational and diasporic studies. Furthermore, the research study investigates how issues of identity and cultural maintenance emerge not just after migrants have moved, but in the migration decision-making process itself by studying: how do Tibetan exiles living in India balance (a) individual and household-level desires to achieve socio-economic upward mobility through migration with (b) the individual and collective desire, reinforced through political rhetoric, to maintain cultural continuity and ethnic identity.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Geoff Childs

Committee Members

John Bowen, Bret Gustafson, James Wertsch, Gautam Yadama


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K75D8Q30