Grib and Bcud: genealogies of biopolitics among Tibetan communities in south-west China
Giovanni da Col (SOAS)
Paper short abstract:
At a time when China is in the world's spotlight, the cult of Kha ba dkar po (Chin. Meili Xue Shan), a Tibetan sacred mountain in Yunnan Province provides the opportunity to examine how indigenous domains of sovereignty over life intermingle with modern forms of governmentality.
Paper long abstract:
A substantial concern of today's debate on biopolitics is to mediate different genealogies of the concept. On one hand, the birth of biopolitics is supposed to mark the threshold of modernity when natural life is included into the regime of State power (Foucault). On the other hand, the production of the biopolitical is supposed to be the original activity of sovereign power (Agamben). At a time when China is in the World's spotlight, the cult of Kha ba dkar po (Chin. Meili Xue Shan), a Tibetan sacred mountain in Yunnan Province provides the opportunity to examine how indigeous domains of sovereignity over life intermingle with modern forms of governmentality. This paper shall explore ideas of biopolitics in relation to: a) native Tibetan conceptions of life and humanity in relation to an ontology of "pollution" (Tib. grib, sgrib) as a principle of sovereignty employed by Buddhist doctrine in ideas of reincarnation but also to produce the "bare life" of lepers living in neglected colonies on the shores of Mekong river; b) the birth of discourses on nature where indigenous notion of "vital essence" (Tib. bcud) and territorial ritual exchanges with mountain deities and chthonic beings (ri bkag, 'khrugs bcos) are neglected or misconceived and replaced with politics of biodiversity (Chin. sheng wu duo yang xin) advocated by international organisations and government officials eager to address Tibetans as "innate environmentalists".
Anthropological perspectives on biopolitics and sovereignty in Europe and the world