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Saxer, Martin (2012): The Moral Economy of Cultural Identity. Tibet, Cultural Survival, and the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage. In: Civilisations : Revue Internationale d'Anthropologie et de Sciences Humaines, Vol. 61, No. 1: pp. 65-82
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This paper takes as its starting point the conflicting claims about the present condition of Tibetan culture. While the Dalai Lama argues that a “cultural genocide” is going on in Tibet, the Chinese Party State emphasises its efforts to safeguard and promote Tibetan cultural heritage. Regardless of the different meanings the notion of “culture” adopts and the different agendas it serves, both sets of claims rely on a remarkably similar rhetoric, which couches cultural heritage not only in political or economic but also in moral terms. Both the “cultural genocide” thesis and the Party State’s alleged efforts to safeguard Tibetan culture are thereby enmeshed in the larger “ethico-politics” surrounding the “Tibet question” and the rise of China in the world. How to understand the fusion of the economic, the political, and the moral ? What happens when the political economy of cultural identity (development, tourism, property and benefits) meets with the ethico-politics of cultural survival ? I argue that a new form of moral economy has emerged at the conjuncture of “cultural survival” and “safeguarding cultural heritage” – a moral economy of cultural identity, similar in structure but different in form and style from the classical cases of moral economies.