Sympatric Politics: Shared Landscapes and Indivisible Geographies in Nepal’s Farwest Tarai

- Amy Leigh Johnson

Discussion Type: Research Seminar Series | Date: 21 Jul 2024 | Time: 03:00 PM


21 July 2024/६ साउन २०८१ (आइतबार, दिउँसो ३ बजे)
Research Seminar Series
Sympatric Politics: Shared Landscapes and Indivisible Geographies in Nepal’s Farwest Tarai
Amy Leigh Johnson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Georgia College & State University, USA

One of the sources of tension in a territorially-centered conception of the state is that what is being configured politically as territory is simultaneously encountered interpersonally as a cultural landscape. For different groups of people residing within state borders, the routines and routes that move people across landscapes in the course of everyday life generate feelings of belonging and attachment that have subjective as well as political meanings. But in times of state transformation and crisis, what happens when two or more groups are residing jointly on a landscape, each drawing cultural significance and political power from its features and histories? This paper engages this question by examining cultural politics of place and territory produced by Indigenous Tharu and migrant-settler Pahadi communities living in Kailali district during Nepal’s recent period of constitution writing and federalization (2006 to present). Through ethnographic descriptions of home-making and history-making transpiring in the fields of Kailali’s agrarian countryside and political rallies in the district capital, Dhangadhi, the paper relates how quotidian relations with landscapes and social memories of migration amplified the competing provincehood claims of Pahadi and Tharu residents. The paper will argue that far from diluting the territorial claims of either groups, it has been the experience of sharing a landscape which has given both Tharu and Pahadi-led provincehood movements their representational and affective power. In this regard, Tharuhat/Tharuwan and Akhanda Sudurpaschim articulated indivisible geographies for the region, but both articulations depended on the presence of the cultural other to advance their claim. The paper explores the implications of shared landscapes for Nepali state-making and territorial theories of the state more broadly, engaging the term sympatry to describe the sharing of territory by distinct groups and sympatric politics to refer to the cultural politics of place and territory produced by sharing a landscape, however unjustly and unevenly.

About the Speaker:
Amy Johnson is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, Georgia. Her research interests are in environmental and political transformation, particularly in Nepal and low elevations of the Himalayan region. She has been conducting research in Kailali and Farwest Nepal since 2011.

- Amy Leigh Johnson

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