Karaoke as Modern Lhasa, Tibet: Western Encounters with Cultural Politics

Essay Excerpt

A politics of difference scripting Tibetan as distinct from Chinese, Chinese as distinct from Westerner, and Westerner as distinct from Tibetan operates in Lhasa today. This politics guarantees, to follow obliquely the insight Walter Benjamin made for another time and place, that for correct understanding to occur, one would have to recognize one's position as "already chosen" before arriving. Taking a position, in turn, means becoming involved in the mechanisms through which identity is articulated in encounters with, and representations of, cultural difference. While the Tibetans one might encounter as a U.S. touristor anthropologist in Lhasa have the ability to confirm one's chosen position on authentic Tibetanness,it is also possible to find, both inside and outside karaoke bars, Tibetans who engage in a "blurring" of the boundaries between these scripted differences. Indeed, Lhasa Tibetans sometimes reveal a Tibetan over- looked in Western popular and even some scholarly Western accounts. In what follows, I primarily explore the cultural constructions of authentic "Tibetanness" by Western tourists. Though I comment as well on Tibetan internalizations of Chinese versions of Tibetanness, I do not pursue that study fully here. I conclude with a more general discussion of the implications of this analysis for a possible reading of modernity. (Adams, 511)

About the Author

Adams is a Professor at the University of California, San Fransisco. Dr. Adams runs the UCSF division of the joint (with UC Berkeley) graduate program in Medical Anthropology. She teaches core theory courses on the history and development of medical anthropology, social studies of science, technology and medicine, and ethnographic field methods. Her research interests include the social conditions and epistemological framings of integrative medicine, international health development, women's health and health care in Tibet, theories of modernity in relation to morality, disaster capitalism, Aging and Displacement Politics. She has worked for 22 years on medical anthropology topics such as medical pluralism, medicine and social change, the politics of clinical trials research in the Himalayan region ( Nepal and Tibet), and more recently on life disruption and disaster as a way of life in post Katrina New Orleans. She is also interested in global studies of science, technology and medicine, and particularly the postcolonial exchange of scientific activities (from labs to field sites, informed consent procedures to the residual problem of spirit-caused disorders).

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