IIAS Fellow in the spotlight: Hannah Klepeis
IIAS Research Clusters: Asian Cities, Global Asia 1 October – 31 July 2022
(Re)imagining social transformations in and beyond China
The purpose of my research fellowship at IIAS is to turn my doctoral thesis into a book manuscript. In spite of the restrictions in place since my arrival (most of my time in Leiden has been spent in lockdown or quarantine!), I have managed to spend a lot of time in a very different world, returning to my field site in my thoughts.
My doctoral research is based on long-term fieldwork conducted in Gyelthang, a multiethnic borderland region in southwest China that was officially renamed Shangri-La 20 years ago to further ethnic tourism. Focusing upon its Tibetan Buddhist monastery Ganden Sumtseling, I explore the implications of state-led development and religious policy on the relations that exist between laypeople and monastics and how they inform notions of Tibetan identity and moral personhood.
My time at the IIAS allows me to think more deeply about parts of my research that I had to sideline during the writing of my dissertation, such as the social, spatial and economic consequences of urbanisation in China’s western regions, local governance, and the role of trans-local connectivities with the Tibetan diaspora in shaping people’s social worlds and informing discourses and processes of identity-making.
The research fellowship has so far been inspiring, allowing for a form of productivity that is hard to measure quantitatively but which has allowed me to think in new directions more freely and openly. It is an invaluable experience for a young academic. It’s great to forge connections with scholars from different fields and career stages. I hope to be able to engage with scholars at Dutch universities and the various research initiatives and networks in the region during the remaining months of my stay.
The past two years have brought fresh challenges for us as anthropologists, especially with regard to conducting ethnographic fieldwork in China. I am currently outlining a new research project that explores China’s social transformations from a global perspective by examining Chinese migration to Europe and related practices of financialisation and citizenship on Europe's margins.
The perspectives and insights of the community at IIAS have been very helpful in framing my present and future research and in stimulating and furthering my curiosity in innumerable topics across Asia. The Institute has also brought friendship and comradeship. I will never forget Christmas. With several IIAS fellows stranded in the same house, we pulled together and created a wonderful potluck dinner; on New Year's Eve, we danced the Viennese Waltz after having grilled Bengali paneer, Assamese meats, and Yunnanese shaokao!