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Dibyesh Anand

Geopolitical Exotica

Tibet in Western Imagination


Wherever the wind blows from

Its rage always falls upon me.

O, please, my dear flagstaff, do excuse me

I the poor flag must pray for leave

Tibetan verse


Writing this book has been an intimate experience for me.

It would not have been possible without the generous support received from the University of Bristol Postgraduate Scholarship, Overseas Research Scholarship Award Scheme, Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme, British International Studies Research Award; British Academy Society for South Asian Studies Travel Grant, University of Bath Centre for Public Economics Grant, Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation Library Grant, and British Academy Small Research Grant.

The Tibetan government-in-exile's Department of Information and International Relations at Dharamsala provided valuable information during my fieldwork. St. Stephen's College (Delhi) and especially its inspiring history lecturers (including David Baker, Aditya Pratap Deo, Sangeeta-Luthra Sharma, Upinder Singh, and Tasneem Suhrawardy) instilled an academic curiosity in me that changed the direction of my life.

I thank Jutta Weldes for her encouragement, support, guidance, and patience during my doctoral research. She is the best supervisor and colleague one can have. I also express appreciation to the Department of Politics at the University of Bristol for supporting me and setting a high standard-thanks to Richard Little, Vernon Hewitt, Andrew Wyatt, Liz Grundy, Anne Jewell, and, especially, Judith Squires. I met Juha Jokela and Johanna Kantola while we were doing our PhDs in the department and we remain friends. Thanks to Rob Walker and Richard Little for the valuable comments on my project in their role as PhD examiners.

The shift from Bristol to Bath at the postdoctoral stage could not have been smoother. Geof Wood, as a good mentor, ensured I built on my existing strengths and expanded to new areas. Thanks to John Sessions, Andy McKay, Allister McGregor, and many others for continuing support. Without the timely grant from the department's Centre for Public Economics, the book would have been incomplete; thanks to Colin Lawson for this. Stefan Wolff is a model senior academic colleague who never failed to help. My gratitude to my students for maintaining my illusion that they find my frequent use of Tibet examples as fascinating as I do.

The intellectual journey of which this book is a product has been enriched by comments and encouragement at various stages by more people than I can recall. My appreciation to Robbie Barnett, Costas Constantinou, Philip Darby, Clare Harris, Barry Hindess, Nitasha Kaul, Christiaan Klieger, Mark Laffey, Jan Magnusson, Martin Mills, Dawa Norbu, Barry Sautman, Tsering Shakya, Michael J. Shapiro, and several other discussants of my conference papers. If I forgot someone, my apologies! Christiaan made me feel at home in the community of Tibetan studies and is a true friend. Mike Shapiro's encouragement helped give me direction at crucial times.

The editorial staff at the University of Minnesota Press has been fantastic in their support. Thanks to Mike Shapiro and David Campbell for editing a series, Borderlines, that new multidisciplinary academics could look to and aspire to be part of. William Callahan provided extremely useful and helpful comments and supported me in more than one way. I remain indebted to him.

My parents, Runa Jha and Namo Nath Jha, always made me believe in myself; I never felt the need to conform. I could not have asked for more understanding parents. The list of family members is long, and it feels odd to "thank" them for what we in any case expect to do in a family: be there for each other without having to ask.

How do I even begin to verbalize my dependence on one person who has made this journey worthwhile? I can say she was always there for me, to support me, to nurture me. But I would be wrong- she was always ahead of me, never letting me rest in illusory professional successes, reminding me not to confuse professional with intellectual. I would like to dedicate this book with love to Nitasha Kaul, my intellectual and life companion, for traveling together with me, for being different, for being herself.


I am not erudite enough to be interdisciplinary, but I can break rules.



Though critical international theories have questioned mainstream International Relations (IR) on epistemological, ontological, and methodological grounds, they remain largely focused on the "West." I contend that the parochial character of IR can be effectively challenged by a postcolonial IR based on conversations between critical international theories and postcolonialism. Adopting a historical analytical perspective, I examine "Exotica Tibet" (henceforth used as a shorthand for Western exoticized representations of Tibet and Tibetans) and its constitutive significance for the "Tibet question." [1] Exotica Tibet is interrogated in terms of its poetics (how Tibet is represented) and its politics (what impact these representational regimes have on the identity discourses of the represented). While Tibet excites the popular imagination in the West, it has been treated cursorily within political studies. I contextualize the empirical study of the Tibet question to put forward more general arguments that may apply to other parts of the postcolonial world and provide new insights into themes of representation and identity.


Mainstream IR remains preoccupied with the "big" issues of war and order, power and security. In the process, it ignores, marginalizes, and trivializes issues that affect the everyday lives of a majority of the world's population living mostly, though not exclusively, in the so-called third world. This has status quoist implications. In the spirit of the Western Enlightenment, IR's parochialism takes on the garb of universalistic pretensions. However, thanks to the various critical international theories, it is no longer possible to speak with confidence of a single discipline called IR. Voices of authority are now continuously engaged by the voices of dissent. While various strands of the "third debate" (see Lapid 1989) have critiqued the conventional theories and widened the self-definition of IR, it still remains mainly "Western" in orientation. Insularity in the guise of universalism remains strong. Reconceptualizing IR away from its moorings in realist and liberal paradigms involves questioning its ontological, epistemological, and methodological concerns while at the same time combating conspicuous elements of its geographical parochialism. In order to go "beyond the dominant rituals of International Relations theory and practice" (George 1996, 70), we must foreground political concerns from "beyond" the West while at the same time recognizing the West's contested and constitutive role in shaping that which lies beyond it. This can be done through adoption of postcoloniality (a postcolonial critical attitude) that involves inter- as well as antidisciplinarity.

IR should no longer be seen as merely the study of particular kinds of political relations because it also involves intercultural and inter-subjective relations. A postcolonial international theory based on conversations of critical IR with antidisciplinary intellectual endeavors like postcolonialism will make this possible. How exactly such conversations take place would differ according to the themes and contexts involved. I do not provide a blueprint for such a dialogue. Instead, the focus is on the themes of representation and identity, especially those involving the West-non-West dynamics. Postcoloniality offers a means to talk about world politics without "political evacuation and disciplinary incorporation" (Weber 1999, 435).


[1] I use the term "Tibet question" to refer to Tibet as an issue in world politics. By using the interrogative word, I foreground the Tibetan issue as a "problem," in line with the "Palestine question" or the "Irish question." It is more than "the conflict over the political status of Tibet vis-a-vis China" (Goldstein in Goldstein and Kapstein 1998, 14; see also Heberer 1995). Crucially, it includes an examination of the very categories of "Tibet" and "Tibetans."