My research interests can be grouped into four main clusters.
First, as a linguist and anthropologist, I have had the incredible privilege to work in collaborative partnership with communities in Himalayan region and more recently the Pacific Northwest. My work is informed by a background in ethnographic methods, anthropological theory and field linguistics. In addition to Nepal, where I have worked since 1992, my interest in the Himalayan region has taken me to Bhutan, where I co-directed a 5-year collaborative research project to document the endangered oral traditions of the nation; the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, where I researched contemporary Nepali wage labour migrants; and also to Sikkim, where I directed the first modern linguistic survey of this small Indian state in partnership with the local government and a Sikkimese research institute. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in partnership with members of the Thangmi-speaking communities of eastern Nepal and Darjeeling district in India since 1996, and since 2015 with members of the Heiltsuk First Nation through a Language and Culture Mobilization Partnership in which UBC is a founding member.
Second, emerging out of these long-term collaborative partnerships, I have become increasingly interested in how insights derived from academic research can inform policy and practice. Since 2003, I have worked as an occasional consultant for the World Bank, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and various UN agencies. Projects have included drafting the first inclusive multilingual education policy for Nepal, advising the Government of Nepal on the linguistic rights of its citizens and assessing the impact of sustainable ecotourism in Tibet. In 2007, I was asked to create and direct the Translation and Interpretation Unit in the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), a special political mission mandated by the UN Security Council to support Nepal’s peace process.
Third, I am committed to innovation in teaching methods and to developing research partnerships with students. In my teaching, I seek to create a rich instructional experience for students at all levels, often supported by digital tools and instructional technology. In recognition of this, I was nominated as the Anthropology Associate for academic year 2009-2010 by C-SAP, the national subject network for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics funded by the UK Funding Councils for Higher Education.
The final component of my life as a scholar is designing and directing larger research projects and initiatives. I co-founded the Digital Himalaya Project in 2000, which has since then developed from its origins as an academic research project into an integrated, open scholarly portal for connecting knowledge about the Himalayan region. I have worked as a fieldwork coordinator and anthropologist on a large, international and multi-disciplinary research project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, jointly based at Leipzig University and Tribhuvan University in Nepal. From 2009, I have directed the World Oral Literature Project, tying together my enthusiasm for fundamental research at the intersection of anthropology and linguistics, a commitment to building a wider scholarly community through supporting the research of others, and a passion for engaged anthropology that reaches an audience beyond the academy. Since 2019, I have served as the principal investigator for the Relational Lexicography project through which we are developing a framework and toolkit for collaborative, community-informed dictionary work with marginalized languages. I am also one of the project leads developing a free and interactive digital language map of New York City, one of the world’s most linguistically diverse metropolitan areas.