Book Review: ‘Ethnicity and Democracy in the Eastern Himalayan Borderland’

In the book Ethnicity and Democracy, Mona Chettri offers a rich ethnography originating from fieldwork conducted in three EH borderland areas: Darjeeling (India), Sikkim (India), and Ilam in East Nepal. These three areas were traditionally seen as continuous cultural landscapes bounded by fluid and porous borders, defining trade, livelihood, and everyday life in the region. Chettri’s book is one of the first few works to identify the continuous yet discrete nature of Darjeeling, Sikkim, and East Nepal. Invoking the EH as a conceptual, geographical, and political space, Chettri offers a new framework within which questions of ethnic revivalism, ethnic politics, representation, political and economic vagaries, and political rights across these regions can be analysed. 

A Trinket, a Trifle, and a Novel New Disciple: Fandoms and Consecrated Commodities

Religious commodification is an arena that has gained increasing interest among social scientists, especially where religious symbols and artefacts are being appropriated by both adherents and non-adherents in an attempt to capitalize on growing worldwide markets. In what Sophia Rose Arjana calls the “mystical marketplace,” these objects, many of which are distinctly associated with orientalist versions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, are stripped of their original contexts and then reimagined as representatives of a kind of timeless, exotic, spirituality to be consumed by economically dominant Westerners. But this short thought-piece is about those consecrated objects whose marketing and sale is what made them sacred in the first place (like the Tibetan Singing Bowls but drawn from Harry Potter and Star Wars rather than the Tripitaka and the Mahayana Sutras). This is about a growing link between religion and fandom and the “ritual objects” that the latter now produces.

Listening to Metal in the World: Music, Identity, and the Other

“Hey Jarrod, you like world music right? Check out this Mongolian band called 13th Bell”. I received this text a few weeks ago and was quite piqued by their choice of words. “World music”, what exactly is that? More often than not, this genre of music has been constantly utilised to categorise songs that sample and/or include musical elements that are derived from a particular minority ethnic group. More specifically, language and vocal technique are the primary factors that allude to this strange term. As an anthropologist of sound and music, I am often loosely classified as an ethnomusicologist, which I always found to possess a curious prefix. I want to take this opportunity to take a step back and revisit the elusive meaning of what the prefix ethno means, and whether it is analogous to the study of ‘world’ music’. Many times, I am asked about and ask myself: what is so appealing about experiencing music that is so distant from your own culture, what is music’s connection with social identities and why is it so pertinent to both the performer(s) and listener(s)?

The Weight of History: Doing Fieldwork as an Ethnic Chinese Researcher

I have been asked about my research in China as a researcher from Taiwan by my colleagues in the US. One of them commented: “It’s not common for someone from Taiwan to do research in China.” I have attributed this sudden recognition of my ethnocultural and legal identity as a Taiwanese and the subsequent framing of my actions as uncommon to the pandemic and its impact on the tensions in current international politics. identity with global geopolitics and how these geopolitical forces have real-life impact on my research and social life.