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Teahouses and Telephones

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Mobile Communication and Spatial Practices of Tibetan Herders in Southern Amdo

image of Inner Asia

Telecommunication infrastructure that enables mobile communication has penetrated all regions of China with unprecedented speed. Tibetan pastoral regions in the north of Sichuan are no exception. Along with road and urban construction, the enlarged telecommunication system has become part of the landscape. Tibetan pastoralists’ mobility patterns and forms of communication have been affected by these developments, and spatial practices have undergone significant transformation. One aspect in which spatial transformations become manifest is in the increased tendency of pastoralists to visit towns. This has contributed to a growth in the number of teahouses and similar gathering places where pastoralists converge. This paper examines how pastoralists embed mobile communication into fixed-place sociability located in towns. It argues that, although mobile communication implies mobility, helping people living in remote areas maintain contact over distance, it is in fact used as a tool of contact and interaction in the centralised location of towns and teahouses.

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