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State Re-Making

State: condition or way of being that exists at a particular time (Cambridge Dictionary)

a photograph of Laxman Tharu, a Tharu politician and activist, addressing a crowd. People in the crowd are holding umbrellas and listening attentively.


State Re-Making in Nepal

The turn of the 21st century saw rising global and domestic interest in the institutional and affective revitalization of the nation-state, with numerous post-conflict countries embarking on new state restructuring and constitution-writing projects.  My dissertation addressed the entangled subjective and structural changes accompanying the rejuvenation of the territorial nation-state in Nepal to ask how the state is (re)constituted in moments of social-political transformation.  

Johnson, Amy. 2020. State Re-Making: Federalism, Environment, and the Aesthetics of Belonging in Nepal. PhD. Diss., Yale University.


Before Belonging

What comes before belonging as a political claim? Starting from the emic category of basāi-sarāi (residence-shift), a Nepali idiom describing coupled experiences of movement and settlement, and literature from the phenomenology of place, I describe how making and keeping a home grounds settler life in the Farwestern Tarai, generating affective relations to the landscape that become the basis for political mobilisation during constitution writing . This dissertation chapter foregrounds women's positionally in the production of pre-political sentiments about place and region. It won the Britain Nepal Academic Council PhD Dissertation Prize in 2021. 

a photograph of a women with a hoe digging a foundation for her temporary house
a cartoon showing a group seated around a table discussing the map in the background which is of the seven provinces of federal Nepal


Constitutional Cartography

How are constitutions made instruments for mapping nation-states? Building from dissertation research on local and provincial mapping in Nepal, I have an ongoing research interest in territorially sensitive constitutional design and constitutionally-mediated cartographic practices. This work joins together constitutional actors (academics and lawyers) and unlikely cartographers (bureaucrats, politicians) who find themselves engaged in delineating the territorial-spatial order of nation-states. 


"Mapping Local Federalism in Nepal: An Exercise in Constitutional Cartography. " Forthcoming. Studies in Nepali History and Society


Sympatric Politics 

Bordering is a social and spatial practice defining the limits of self and other. The dichotomies instantiated through bordering practices subtend myriad aspects of contemporary social life, including the enduring allure of nationalism and group endogamy that haunt state-making. I am interested in sympatry as a framework for rethinking territorialization, kinship, and belonging amidst current state re-making projects. 


I received the 2020 David M. Schneider Award from the American Anthropological Association in recognition of my paper, “Tharu-Pahadi Bhai-Bhai: Equality, Intimacy, and Exogamy in the New Nepal." This award is given each year to a graduate student in anthropology in recognition of innovative work in the fields of kinship, culture theory, and American culture. 


Johnson, Amy. 2021. "Don’t Break the State: Indivisibility and Populist Majority Politics in Nepal." Hot Spots, Fieldsights, March 16.


A picture of a Tharu woman in a field collecting grass. She is dressed in red and looks confidently into the camera.
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