Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
How is the terrain of a nation-state made to ground nationalism? In other words, in what ways is the literal ground of the nation-state inspiring formations of feeling, and how do we make sense of such couplings that do not fall into the conceit of environmental determinism? The correspondence of physical environment and sentiment, of natural order and social order, is at the heart of Nepal’s recent state restructuring project (2008-2015). I examine the interplay of sign, affect, and expertise amongst a group of Nepali academics—geographers, anthropologists, and political scientists—serving on the State Restructuring Committee (SRC)—the constitutional body tasked with organizing Nepal into provinces to deliver federal reform for a “New Nepal.” Interpreting the physical terrain of Nepal as indexical of social relations, the design of a federal map by experts became an effort in devising a symbolic system communicating the ideal association of Nepali people to Nepali land and, by extension, the spirit of the new Nepal. Juxtaposing two extreme opinions within the SRC, I parse out the passions, politics, and semiotic processes of this cartographic pursuit to argue that as the map grounds the transition from a unitary to a federal state, it reveals the ground of the state to be a reference for the idea of the state. The changing sensibilities experts feel toward national territory shapes the form of the nation-state in Nepal, eliciting insights into the significance of territory to the vitality of the nation-state in all its forms.