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From the Margins of Exile: Democracy and Dissent within the Tibetan Diaspora

  • Author(s): Wangmo Dhompa, Tsering
  • Advisor(s): Connery, Christopher;
  • Hong, Christine J
  • et al.

This dissertation considers anew questions of identity, belonging, governance, and nationalism within the context of displacement. While post-colonial approaches to these issues presuppose a nation-state, my project, by contrast, casts critical light on Tibetan nationalism and the future nation as it is articulated and practiced by a refugee and diasporic peoples. My research does this by juxtaposing the external struggle for international recognition by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile¬¬–– a territory-less entity that behaves like a state––with the less examined internal struggle to command loyalty within the Tibetan diaspora.

I analyze documents produced in the mid-1960s by Tibetan exiles to suggest they were seminal to preparing a disciplined and loyal body of the newly displaced Tibetans coming from myriad traditions of religious faith and regional loyalties to be beholden to one policy: that of the democratic politico-religious system furnished by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile under the Dalai Lama. And it is in this context that the particularly valenced concepts of “unity” and “democracy” gained as their preeminent values the fulfillment of the wishes of the exile government, protest against the Chinese colonization of Tibet, securing the national goal of Tibetan independence, and marking a crossing to a particular kind of modernity. I argue that unity was an exclusionary discourse. It was presented simultaneously as the moral and political responsibility of the modern Tibetan “refugee-citizen” as well as the traditional duty of a Tibetan Buddhist. Thus, unity became the dominant framework of governance for thinking about the boundaries of belonging, citizenship in exile, political obligation, and the values of the Tibetan people.

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