I am an anthropological demographer specializing in research among Tibetan populations living in the highlands of Nepal, China, and India. I use the quantitative tools of demography to understand what is happening with a population, for example, the timing and magnitude of a fertility decline, or the pattern of out-migration. I use the qualitative tools of ethnography to understand the driving forces behind those trends, and how they impact the lives of individuals. Working across disciplines poses challenges, yet offers many rewards such as collaborative research with like-minded colleagues on topics that are central to anthropology and the social sciences (migration, family systems, development, aging, adaptation).
Since starting Ph.D. fieldwork in 1995 I have continuously visited Nubri, a Tibetan cultural enclave in northern Gorkha District, Nepal, to study local history, family management strategies, demographic trends, and a host of other topics. My first book, Tibetan Diary, uses dialogues between the ethnographer and interlocutor Tashi Döndrub to explore the life cycle in Nubri from birth to death and beyond. In a more recent book, From a Trickle to a Torrent, Namgyal Choedup and I investigate patterns and consequences of educational migration. Research in Nubri has been supported by Fulbright-Hays, Wenner-Gren, The National Science Foundation, World Oral Literature Project, The Shelly and Donald Rubin Foundation, and Washington University in St. Louis. Click the links below for some publications on Nubri.
From 2006-2009 I collaborated with Melvyn Goldstein (Case Western Reserve University) and Puchung Wangdui (Tibet Academy of Social Sciences) to investigate challenges elderly people face in Tibet in a context of rapid social and economic changes. We demonstrated how the elderly can act as agents of change through their strategies to keep adult children beholden to the household. We have also provided some of the most in-depth, on site perspectives on social, economic, and demographic changes occurring in Tibet in the wake of China’s massive development efforts.
From 1999-2002 I conducted research on land tenure, family management strategies, and fertility outcomes in Tibet’s Kyirong District prior to 1959. The research involved demographic analysis of a 1958 household register alongside hundreds of interviews with former Kyirong residents about their families, tax burdens, marital strategies, and other topics. Key findings are published in Polyandry and Its Discontents, Chapter 3 of Tibetan Transitions (2008, Brill). Through this research I pioneered a method for analyzing demographic data contained within household registers in order to estimate fertility and population growth.
A cultural perspective on contraception in highland Nepal: Closing the Womb Door
A foray into research methodology with special reference to Kyirong: Methods & Meanings
Animal sacrifice in Himalayan Buddhist societies? Animal Sacrifice
Comparing Tibetan fertility transitions to Europe, India, and China: Fertility Transitions
Politics of family planning among Tibetan exiles in South Asia: Reproducing Identity
Marraige and Kinship from Milarepa’s biography: Marriage, Kinship, Inheritance
Inca population fluctuations in 16th century Peru: Inca Population Dynamics
Since 2012 I have been co-PI with Cynthia Beall (Case Western) and Sienna Craig (Dartmouth) on a project titled “Genes and the Fertility of Tibetan Women at High Altitude in Nepal” that seeks to uncover links between genetic adaptation to high altitude and reproductive outcomes. Since 2013 I have been co-PI with E.A. Quinn (Washington University) on a project titled “Milk with Altitude” that explores associations between high altitude adaptation, mothers milk, and infant growth. Click the links below for some of the publications from this research.