"Mobility, Infrastructure, and Affective Worlds in and out of the Himalayas": Panel discussion with Sienna Craig and Sara Shneiderman


Location: 1050 Jenkins Nanovic Halls

What is the relationship between body, land, and place in a world of unknown future risk? The Himalayas are a region where people forge strong ties of belonging to place. However, disasters such as the 2015 earthquakes epicentred in central Nepal, coupled with increasingly common environmental catastrophes, have forced people to consider relocation due to risk, including that generated by post-disaster reconstruction. At the same time, education- and labor-driven outmigration, coupled with an aging rural population, raises intimate issues of concern related to place, in which homes must be retrofitted, or left entirely as aging bodies are no longer able to navigate traditional architectures and care for themselves on their own. This event brings together two distinguished scholars of Himalayan studies—Sienna Craig, anthropology professor at Dartmouth College, and Sara Shneiderman, associate professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, to explore movement, mobility, and connection to place in the Himalayas across multiple scales–from the aging body to the displaced community.

This panel discussion is part of the Liu Institute's lecture series Global Affairs from the Top of the World: Himalayan Asia Today, which is cosponsored by the Liu Institute's South Asia Group. Brunch will be served.

Craig and Shneiderman will participate in the workshop that follows the panel discussion and the link to that event can be found HERE.

Sienna Craig 800

Sienna Craig is the Orvil Dryfoos Professor of Public Affairs in the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. She has been conducting ethnographic and public-health oriented research with Himalayan and Tibetan communities between Nepal and North America for more than twenty-five years. A writer whose work spans multiple genres, she is the author, most recently, of The Ends of Kinship: Connecting Himalayan Lives between Nepal and New York (University of Washington Press, 2020).

For the panel, Craig will present "Aging, Care, and Place: Himalayan Elders in an Era of Migration"

ABSTRACT: In many places on this planet, we are getting older. Global population aging is increasing in intensity and the structures human communities have relied upon for generations to care for the elderly are cracking and shifting, for many reasons. This presentation emerges from more than two decades of research and relationship with people from Mustang, Nepal –including those who now live in urban Nepal and New York City. I describe preliminary fieldwork conducted in Summer 2023, toward a longer-term comparative and collaborative project that asks: How do individuals, families, communities, and institutions adapt to demographic and socioeconomic changes to allow people to age in a culturally appropriate manner? This work recognize that elder care, support, and wellbeing are crucial issues that require creative responses at times when education and labor-driven migration, climate change induced displacement, and political marginalization will continue to impact the viability of Himalayan communities and shape the lives of their diasporic counterparts. Current and future research aims to contribute to an anthropology of aging and the discipline’s burgeoning concern with care by assessing what ‘successful’ aging means, how ‘aging in place’ is experienced in times of migration and displacement, and how the ‘inner architectures’ afforded by Buddhist concepts such as impermanence and interdependence intersect with the material conditions of rural life – including the homes that anchor people to place and lineage – within a broader context of migration and social change.

Sara Shneiderman 800

Sara Shneiderman is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and School of Public Policy & Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, where she co-leads the Himalaya Program and Disaster Resilience Research Network. She has been conducting ethnographic and policy-engaged research in the Himalaya and South Asia for over 25 years, and is the author of Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), along with many journal articles, most recently focusing on Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction.

For the panel, Shneiderman will present "Anchoring Mobility, Embodying Risk: Houses as Intimate Infrastructure in Nepal’s Ongoing Transformation"

ABSTRACT: How do we ground ourselves in the face of uncertainty? Drawing upon 25 years of research in several districts of rural Nepal, this presentation explores the relationships between people, their houses, and the landscapes in which they live to consider how we comprehend risk and plan for the future amidst radical change. In this photographically illustrated talk, I track how houses have served as an anchor through the social transformations wrought by political conflict and expanded mobility, as well as the environmental upheaval of the 2015 earthquakes and the accelerated infrastructural development that followed in conjunction with reconstruction. At the same time, houses are a bellwether of future risk, as people consider where and how to invest their material, emotional, and labour resources in building shelter, that most fundamental form of infrastructure. Yet all too often, scholarly and political discussions of housing for marginalized communities foreground its functionality at the expense of understanding houses as a site of creativity that bring people into intimate relation with both the terrain and state in which they live. Here, I take a holistic approach that sees both houses and the people who build them as embodied subjects in ongoing processes of transformation, whose ability to thrive in complex sociopolitical and natural environments is dependent upon a balance between structural stability and the capacity to change.

Aidan Seale-Feldman

Moderator Aidan Seale-Feldman, an assistant professor of anthropology at Notre Dame and a Liu Institute faculty fellow, is a medical anthropologist interested in affliction and its treatments. Grounded in ethnographic explorations of disaster, mental health, and mass hysteria, her research asks how to approach forms of affliction that are not bound within the individual but instead move across bodies, environments, and generations.