As a cultural and medical anthropologist, I am invested in understanding the multiple ways that so-called 'traditional' medical systems interact with biomedicine and global health: from patient-healer relationships and the cultural meanings people ascribe to suffering and affliction; to the wider socioeconomic and political circumstances in which medical practitioners are trained, healing occurs, and medicines are produced, evaluated, and distributed. I also have an abiding interest in studies of ethnicity, identity, and citizenship, including how experiences of diaspora and exile impact subjectivities as well as concepts of "health" and health seeking behaviors, and how they shape possibilities of and for care.
Much of my work is collaborative, interdisciplinary, and trained on applying critical medical anthropology perspectives and insights to ground truth health care realities in a variety of transnational contexts. I enjoy working with colleagues in biomedicine - experts in public health and global health - on issues related to medical education and clinical practice, at the intersections of medical, humanistic, and social scientific ways of knowing, grounded in the lived experiences of patients, families, communities, and health care professionals.
My book Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine, investigates contemporary Tibetan medicine in Nepal and Tibetan areas of China and as a globalizing "complementary and alternative" medicine. I analyze how practitioners transmit knowledge between generations, and how they are professionalizing. I also address the translation of science across cultural, epistemological, and ideological borders by documenting what happens when Tibetan medicines are made to adhere to biomedical standards of drug safety and quality, and as they are evaluated through clinical research in Asia and the West. In Nepal and China, these dynamics reflect nation-building agendas and the politics of identity; they also illuminate an expanding global market for complementary and alternative medicines and point to the ethical, economic, and environmental challenges inherent in producing traditional medicines for mass markets.
I first traveled to Nepal in 1993, on an undergraduate study abroad program, and have been returning to this part of the world ever since. My earliest ethnographic work centered on ethnoveterinary practices and human-animal interactions, with a specific focus on the role of the horse in local culture and economy, religious symbolism and ritual practice, and as important figures in agro-pastoral life, including during moments of intense and rapid socio-economic change. The research I conducted at this time forms the basis of Horses Like Lightning: A Story of Passage Through the Himalayas, a work of creative nonfiction. I remain interested in dynamics between human and non-human lives and ways of being.
I am committed to writing across genres. My children's book, Clear Sky, Red Earth: A Himalayan Story, with Nepali artist Tenzin Norbu, is in its third edition and has also been published in Tibetan. I have collaborated with photographer Kevin Bubriski on Mustang in Black and White, a project that combines Bubriski's images of Mustang, Nepal, with my text. I have worked with new music composer Andrea Clearfield on several projects - Tse Go La and Khandroma - which include my original poetry and are inspired by Tibetan and Himalayan cultural worlds. My current book project, The Ends of Kinship: Connecting Himalayan Lives between Nepal and New York (2020, University of Washington Press) combines narrative ethnography with short fiction. I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (2018-19) to work on this project.