Reassembling the Feeling Community

Space, Time, and Morality in the Tibetan Diaspora in India, c. 1959-1979

Frederik Schröer (completed PhD Project, 2020)

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru at Birla House, Mussorie, 1959.

This dissertation inquires into the role of emotions in diasporic community formation. Its case study is the early history of the community of Tibetan refugees in India, from the beginning of Tibetan exile in 1959 to around the end of the second decade in 1979. It traces the key concepts, emotions, and practices which were essential to recreate a community in exile—a process here analysed as reassembly. The focus on emotions is consolidated in the analytical concept of feeling community, which reveals that emotions were not just generated in but simultaneously generative of community. By investigating the imbrication of the diaspora’s emotional matrix with categories of space, time, and morality, this work further shows that neither of the above categories can be fully understood outside their mutual constitution.

The dissertation proceeds through four empirical chapters, structured around four broad categories of analysis. The study opens with a focus on relations. In early exilic autobiographical and other narratives, Tibetan refugees used key (emotional) concepts to, on the one hand, establish powerful spatial relations between homeland and exile. And temporal relations, on the other hand, connected the different pasts, presents, and futures of the refugees in diaspora as well as of those left in the homeland. Secondly, performances are shown as key to understanding the role of practiced emotions in community formation, or “doing” diaspora by drawing on and reshaping shared emotional repertoires and embodied practices, in the commemoration of a new holiday in the diaspora. In order to feel (as) together, the members of the community had to feel (something) together. Structures, thirdly, both material and immaterial, are traced to show the emergent new formations of the diasporic community between tradition and innovation. Seeing Tibetan exile as neither total rupture nor complete continuity, attention to the dynamic formation of structures—such as institutions of governance, spatial frameworks, or political and moral formations—reveals how concepts, emotions, and practices were mobilized in flexible matrixes reacting to the specific conditions of exile. And finally, education is analysed as the confluence of all previously discussed factors, combining the diaspora’s efforts to preserve its heritage and prepare for the future, facing the challenge of sustaining a stable diasporic identity across generations.

As contemporary an issue as it is once again today, migration is a factor that straddles human histories. The work undertaken here is a specific one, investigating a specific case and context. Nonetheless, its insights into the role of emotions in community formation and morality, and the connection between emotions, space, and time, speak to other fields and other disciplines, including global history, histories of migration and diaspora, and the history of emotions.

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