Futures Traced : Young Tibetans' Entrepreneurial Projects on the Tibetan Plateau

Zhang, Mingyun, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Damon, Frederick, Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the material-semiotic-historical nexus from which contemporary Tibetan entrepreneurship emerges on the Tibetan Plateau. Three key concepts stand out: "youth," "entrepreneurship," and "home." After carefully examining these concepts' metaphysical and historical legacy, I seek to understand how my Tibetan interlocutors interpret and actualize these abstract notions in their concrete engagement in private businesses on the Plateau. I argue that today's young Tibetans build their solidarity within China's development regime by actively seeking connections across time and space. They make sense of their historical positions by reworking a selected set of traditions, memories, and idioms, and project futures out of the meaningful pasts. Although many of them choose to leave their home pastures and resettle in major cities, these young men and women anchor their identities in a Plateau-based sense of community as a vision and actively create contemporary Tibetan cultures through their entrepreneurial projects. Focusing on meaning-generating practices, including temporalization, naming, relation-making, and caring, I depart from a conventional constructionist approach and align with philosophical hermeneutics which foregrounds the immediacy of lived experiences and intimate engagement with the material world. I draw on the Heideggerian notion of temporality and historicity to illustrate the temporal nature of not only people's life courses and daily routines but also the idea of solidarity, emphasizing the "coevalness" (Fabian 1983) of plural pasts, presents, and futures (Browne 2014). I further see the social processes in today's China as various configurations of thoughts, things, moral discourses, and cosmological beliefs. They interplay and interweave, emerging as a specific historical moment in which young Tibetans orient themselves with their interpretive efforts. Last but not least, I borrow the notion of ‘trace’ formulated by Derrida to acknowledge the invisible, the absent, and the inarticulate as the conditions that make the above presence and manifestations possible.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Entrepreneurship, Youth, Temporality, Historicity, Moral Economy, Hermeneutics, the Tibetan Plateau, China
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