Carpet worlds: the cultural representation and production of Tibetan carpets

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(Dissertation) Ph.D.
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This dissertation investigates the representational politics of Tibetan carpets and the political economy of carpet production from the early twentieth century to the 2000s. I describe how socio-historical practices and processes formed the conditions from which Tibetan weavers invented their subject positions in socialist and post-socialist Lhasa. By examining the history of a Tibetan carpet factory, I analyze the interplay of patriarchy, ethnicity, and capital accumulation that has marginalized women weavers in Lhasa’s post-socialist carpet industry. The first three chapters consist of an historical analysis of representations of “Tibetan carpets.” I begin by investigating “Western” ideas of Tibetan carpets and the establishment of a carpet production centre in Nepal. I then explore the making of “Tibetan carpets” as commodities and as cultural symbols under the Tibetan government, the socialist Chinese government, and the post-socialist Chinese government. I argue that the making and marketing of Tibetan carpets directly or indirectly turned Tibetan carpets into internationally-celebrated “ethnic folk art,” thus contributing to the emergence and development of an export carpet industry in Lhasa. The second part of the dissertation is a case study of the history of Tibet’s first carpet factory, Lhasa Carpets, from the 1960s to the 2000s. I discuss the changes in meanings of carpet-weaving, weavers’ social-economic status, working conditions, and labour relations. I describe how weaving prestige carpets started as men’s work in pre-socialist Lhasa, became women’s work in socialist Lhasa, and finally became migrant women’s work in post-socialist Lhasa. I show that pro-market policies and Tibetan patriarchal family structure combine to subject women weavers to exploitative and patriarchal working conditions. Finally, I examine the legacy of socialism and Tibetan Buddhist culture that gave these women the strength to confront the local patriarchy and exploitative labour policies. I conclude by discussing the limitations of women’s collective and individual strategies for social status and economic reward.
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