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Migration and translocal livelihoods : transformation amidst climate change in Mustang, Nepal Amburgey, Emily


Migration and climate change are not new to Himalayan communities whose livelihoods depend on their translocal mobilities and firsthand knowledge of the changing climate in the high mountains. This dissertation focuses on the district of Mustang in northwest Nepal to expand the analytical framework beyond a focus on climate-induced migration to explore other factors that influence decisions to migrate. I ask how people navigate environmental change, particularly the occurrence of more frequent and severe disasters, under conditions of high mobility. In this dissertation, I explore three key research findings. First, I show how translocal labor migration has become a normal part of the life cycle for people in Mustang, and I build on nonlinear migration theories that highlight the circular and cyclical nature of migration. Second, I explore the interconnections between migration and climate change to challenge concepts like “climate refugees” that over-simplify the connections between why and how people move in the context of environmental change. Third, I discuss how multiple overlapping disasters in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and Nepal’s devastating floods in 2021 threaten livelihoods and I show that translocal kinship and economies of care are at the core of how people in and from Mustang recover and rebuild in the wake of disaster and disruption. I argue that anthropologists are uniquely situated to contribute to research on the animate environment and the co-constitution of humans and more-than-human beings that intersect with the ways communities navigate the practical and discursive dynamics of climate change. I conclude that the existence of translocal kinship networks and reciprocal exchanges between humans and their animate environment are in many ways the lifeline for high mountain communities like Mustang—communities who live in disaster-prone regions while also being at the forefront of massive state-led borderland development and securitization projects.

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