The eastern Himalayan region lies at the crossroads—and at the borders—between what is conventionally recognized as Inner Asia (Tibet), East Asia (China), and South East Asia (Burma, North-East India). This international conference aims to explore the junction between these cultural, linguistic, and ethnic zones, and to establish better channels of communication between Chinese and Tibetan studies, but also studies on South East Asia, to help improve our understanding of this mountainous region.
Such an exploration prompts us to both decompartmentalize cultural areas and share key research topics. We wish to take into account works of reference about relationships to space and political and economic organization, such as the macro-regions of William Skinner (1964-1965), the galactic models of Stanley Tambiah (1976), the “geo-body” of Thongchai Winichakul (1994), or more recently the “Zomia” of Willem Van Schendel (2002) and James C. Scott (2009). Therefore, at the theoretical and methodological level, this conference sets out to critically review these formulations, while going beyond the separation into cultural areas that usually structures research in social science on mainland East Asia. In light of this, this conference seeks to provide an opportunity to pay particular attention to the part of the Sino-Tibetan borderlands that the Tibetans refer to as Kham. By considering this particular locale where specific identity, territorial, economic and social processes take place, this conference aims to provide a critical arena for a comparative and transdisciplinary approach to the multiple influences that have been at work in this borderland area.
This commits us to considering this region through its successive fragmentations and aggregations in its relationship with the neighboring centers of power—Central Tibet (Lhasa) to the west, and China to the east (Sichuan) and south (Yunnan)— and as a space made up of a set of multiple centers linked by communication and exchange processes. While there is still some resistance to a thorough investigation of the internal diversity of Tibet and its connections with the outside, we hope this conference will gather interest from scholars eager to contribute fresh, first-hand material to the socio-cultural diversity of Kham, in order to explore factors of unity and diversity that characterize this region and which are the source of its complexity. This collective endeavor, we hope, will help make a significant contribution to the definition of spaces, communities, identities and areas of influence on different scales and at different times in history.
As an outcome of the collaborative ERC-funded research project “Territories, Communities, and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands,” the conference will continue to explore four main transversal themes that have been topics of preliminary inquiries: 1) trade and commerce, 2) ethnicity, religion and local identities, 3) political entities and social organization, and 4) representations and cultural politics. These broad themes will be tackled differently during each conference panels.
Stéphane Gros (convenor)
Kunsang Lama Namgyal