How They See Us


Onta's book is an engaging account of how social science research about Nepal has developed in the U.K and where it is headed


Pratyoush Onta's ''Nepal Studies in the UK'' is a collection of interviews with 19 scholars based mostly in the U.K. who have been to are engaged in research on different aspects of Nepal. An introduction by Onta predes the interviews. In it he discusses the history of British scholarly interest in Nepal and presents short analyses of themes common to the interviews that follow. The interviews are arranged in a chronological order according to when the interviewees received their doctorates, the first in 1966 and the last whose thesis is still to be published. As the focus is the research these academics have done concerning Nepal, there are tions that are shared by many of them. It is thus possible to read the book not as separate accounts of the works of different practitioners but as a single, connected narrative. Moreover, Onta asks each of the interviewees the same questions, an approach that suggests that the purpose of the book is to reveal general trends of social science research and not to provide accounts of the individual works of the people involved. What results is an engaging account of how social science research concerning Nepal has developed in the U.K in the last fifty or so years, the directions in which it is going.

Since the 70s and 80s, we learn, most western academic research in Nepal has been in the field of social anthropology. This is partly because of the influece of the anthropologist Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf, who was, among otherthings, Dor Bahadur Bista's mentor, and partly because anthropology departments receive more funding than his tory or literature departments. But the most importan reason is because most researchers were more interested in as such; they were more interested in the theoretical constructs behind their findings, which could be abstracted and used in analyses of other societies. In the 70s and 80s

Nepal Studies in the UK:
Conversations with Practitioners
AUTHOR: Pratyoush Onta Martin Chautari (Chautari book series)
PRICE: Rs. 950
PAGES: 210
Most anthropologists were concerne with the societies of single tribal group.

Since the 90s, however, anthropologists have been interested in other themes, such as public health, the medial and the effects of golbalization. Academics are also getting increasingly involved in viewing Neapl through other lenses than those of anthropology. Michael Hutt, who teaches Nepali language, among other things, at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, is a prominent figure. He is often viewed as a central figure in British social science research about Nepal today becaue he is connected to many British and Nepali academics and often acts as an intermediary between them. In addition he is the only academic in the U.K. with the word Nepali in his job title. He has been responsible for in spiring a younger generation of researchers. Hutt says, ''The new generation's interest in Nepal probably converges with Nepali concerns rather more closely than that of earlier generations.'' Mark Turin agrees: ''Studying in Nepal can no longer just be working with 'one people' without taking into account the functioning of the modern nation state.''

These researchers face problems in disseminating their work in Neapl. Most of them are forced, particualrly because of their interest in advancing their careers, to publish with western publishing houses. Because of the high costs of the books, they become available to the Nepali audience only yeras after their initial publication, when the original publisher agrees to have the book published in cheaper editions in India and Neapli. Also many academics are uncomfortable about how Nepali audiences respond to and use their writings. David Gellner comments that Newari activists distorted the findings of his book on Newai ethnicity as a defense for Newari culture. Similarly, Mark Turin writes, ''I know that I am being consciously and willfully manipulated by the various Thangmi ethnic communities when they ask me to come to their meetings.''

Nevertheless many interviewees, including Turin, are keen that Nepalis read their works, and they remain deeply engaged with the Nepali public. They find current intellectual circles in Nepal much more congenial and stimulating than in the past, they are much better acquainted with Nepali languages and literature and they are deeply dedicated to their profession. However, Onta bemoans how ''embarrassingly ignorant'' we are regarding ''the institutional and disciplinary dynamics that generate and constrain scholarship about Nepal.''

Foreign scholars have tackled subjects that still lie outside the ken of traditional Nepali scholarship, which is still concerned mostly with modern political history, and they have revealed important truths about our nation. Only by engaging with their works can we reach a mutual level of undrstanding where, in Michael Hutt's words, ''the kuire-puja'' will cease, but at the same time will ''not give way to indiscriminate kuire-bashing.'


Source: Nation weekly, september 5, 2004

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