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Memories of Tibet: Transnationalism, Transculturation and the Production of Cultural Identity in Northern Pakistan

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The Cultural Politics of Conservation in Northern Pakistan

This project represents the combination of a number of small funded grants, mostly from IUCN-The World Conservation Union between 1994 and 2003 that focus on the intersection of international conservation organizations and localized communities in northern Pakistan. The research, both textual and ethnographic has revealed the discursive and material means through which conservation organizations produce a set of objects (nature, community, biodiversity, etc.) to act upon, and the social consequences for the individuals, communities, and ecosystems subject to those actions. This work has contributed to an understanding of the social dimensions of conservation practice and to the localized effects of transnational relations. In particular, the project has:

The results are included in numerous conference presentations, invited lectures and publications. A reviewer for one of these papers (in a volume edited by James Carrier) commented that the chapter "ranked the strongest ethnographically. The narrative was enjoyable and the elucidation of sustainable development as capitalizing nature was one of the strongest I have come across". As a result of this work, I have been invited to participate in a number of international forums, including the World Parks Congress, devoted to restructuring conservation practice and management. My research on the cultural politics of conservation has been useful to IUCN's Commission on Economic, Environment and Social Policy and the Theme on Indigenous Communities and Protected Areas. These groups have used it to help promote a more critical consideration of social policy within conservation planning and practice. This has resulted in my being invited to address The World Parks Congress, a gathering of conservation professionals held once every ten years.. This work has also led to the development of a subsequent research project focused on an institutional ethnography of IUCN-The World Conservation Union. Support for this project is pending.

 

Kar-i: A Multi-media Porter Advocacy Project

This project includes both web-based presentation of research results and a feature length documentary and arose out of the request of Balti participants in the SSHRC funded project "Portering Relations and Transcultural Interaction in Northern Pakistan" (on which I was co-investigator). It provides a means not just to present the research results of that project but to give participants their own voice in the presentation of those results. To date the web site is complete though still being added to. The documentary is partially complete. Thirty hours of video interviews were captured during the summer of 1991, but following the collapse of trekking and mountaineering activities after Sept. 11, 2001, further filming has been delayed. I anticipate completion of the project by 2005. The project has contributed to knowledge within visual anthropology. This formed the basis of a conference paper which I am revising for publication. This paper addresses the value of digital video as a means of exposing structures of knowledge underlying the social relations and labour practices of adventure tourism; and in meeting demands for praxis in research . It also examines questions of politics that arise out of the different expectations of outcome on the part of both filmmaker and subjects, and how these can be reconciled to some extent through practices of reflexivity in the making of documentaries. As such it also contributes to an understanding of power relations between 'researcher' and 'researched'. These have helped to guide the research approach adopted in this project.

 

Portering Relations and Transcultural Interaction in Northern Pakistan

This project undertaken in collaboration with David Butz (Geography, Brock University) examined the discursive and material reproduction of an oppressive labour economy within the mountaineering and adventure tourism industry. It established portering as a major 'site' through which transculturation has occurred over the past 150 years and examined how transculturation shapes the material relations involved in portering. The research phase of the project is complete but publications are still forthcoming, including a contract for a book length manuscript tentatively titled "Bearing the White Man's Burden: Portering and Transcultural Interaction in northern Pakistan" currently under negotiation with the University of Minnesota Press, which will rework and extend out existing published work. I have published four papers in referred journals based on this project, while one is accepted and under revision. Further publications are under preparation. Numerous other manuscripts have been prepared by my collaborator and twenty invited lectures or presentations given at academic conferences in a variety of disciplines. In particular, our work has:

To our knowledge, this is the only existing detailed ethnographic study of a portering economy and has contributed significantly to an understanding of the continuance between colonial exploration, contemporary adventure tourism in terms of structuring a labour economy through both representational and material practice. This project has helped to understand how transculturation and transnationalism contribute to the formation of power relations in northern Pakistan, Particularly in relation to a tourism industry that seeks to produce particular conceptions of people and place, while simultaneously reproducing oppressive labour practices. The project provided the basis for one Masters thesis and one Ph.D. dissertation. This research has been of use to non-governmental organizations. In the aftermath of the project a number of groups have arisen to address the oppressive and often dangerous conditions faced by mountaineering and trekking porters. These include Tourism Concern in Britain, Porters Progress in Nepal, and The International Porter Protection Group. The research project anticipated these developments and has provided both an understanding of the mechanisms of inequity in this labour economy and documented cases that activist groups can use to help redress grievances. In some cases, these groups have been effective in lobbying tour organizers to adopt codes of fair conduct for porters in their employ.

 

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Disclaimer: This document in no way represents University of Toronto at Scarborough. All opinions and errors are mine alone.
kmacd@scar.utoronto.ca