This paper examines identity constructions of young and educated Tibetans from a socio-cultural background of nomadic pastoralism in Amdo. It is based on qualitative research conducted between 2003 and 2008, comparing two generations of educated young people from a township in the Amdo region of Northern Sichuan in the People’s Republic of China. It examines developments in education policies and practices as well as economic developments from 2003 to 2008 and argues that identity constructions of school students and graduates need to be analysed against the background of such changes. Conceptualisations of nomad identity are linked to nomadic pastoralism, and when students return to their home communities after graduation or during school vacation, they do not fit easily into categories of being a nomad. This paper argues that in 2003, these graduates, who were a marginal group, underlined the usefulness of education for pastoral production by constructing an identity that showed them to be of use for the pastoral community. In 2008 increased school enrolment, changed attitudes towards education, the emergence of new and alternative sources of income in pastoral regions alongside pastoralism have widened the context for identity constructions. They seem to require less emphasis on a link to the pastoral context, as acceptance of new orderings has come into place. Those orderings are expressed in perceptions that non-educated people are the practising pastoralists while the educated are accessing and expected to access different sources of income and are linked to pastoralism by their upbringing, culture, traditions and language.


This research paper was presented at 12th International Association of Tibetan Studies, 15 – 20 August 2010, Vancouver. I wish to thank first and foremost my assistant, informants and friends for their trust and willingness to share their experiences with me. Furthermore, I wish to thank Andrew Fischer for his helpful insights and comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and also my anonymous reviewer of a later draft. All remaining mistakes and inconsistencies are mine.