Rebuilding the Foundations: Local governance and democratic citizenship in post-earthquake Nepal

“Earthquakes cause devastation in order to change the world, or at least the kingdom. In our country Nepal, earthquakes rocked the nation in 13th, 15th, and 17th century of Vikram Era…Will this earthquake too bring about the similar changes as the quake of v.s. 1890 (1833 AD) did? For the people, of course, things would come and go… After some time, things could transform into stories…” – Vigoman Shrestha (2009 v.s. [1952 AD]), quoted by Yogesh Raj in History as Mindscapes (2067 v.s. [2010 AD])

My dissertation investigates the politics of disasters using mixed methods with a subnational, comparative design in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. It asks 1.) how and why the reconstruction process varies among communities and 2.) how residents view reconstruction as a problem of governance. It compares reconstruction in three urban centers – Kathmandu, Lalitpur (Patan), and Bhaktapur – after the 2015 Gorkha earthquake drawing upon events from the 1900s to today, including an urban development project, land reform, and the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake.

Side of a brick wall with white wooden windows leaning on it on the ground. Building had cracks from the earthquake

Photo taken February 2020

Data come from over 100 interviews from in and outside of the Valley, archival work from the Nepal Architecture Archive (NAA) and party pamphlets collected in the 1990s by anthropologist Dr. Greg Grieve, and an urban household level survey (n = 1800). The project contributes to literatures in comparative politics, the political economy of public goods provision and development, governance, ethnicity and heritage, and state-society relations.

I was based in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal in 2022 to collect data and conduct a household level survey in the core historical wards of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur with the J. William Fulbright U.S. Student Program Fellowship. Research costs were co-provided by Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies and the Institute for Advanced Studies. Finally, seven months of in-country language training and preliminary data collection were supported by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies in the years of 2018-2020, and three months of additional in-country data collection were funded by the Institute for Advanced Studies in 2023. My Nepal-based affiliates include the Institute of Engineering (IoE) in Pulchowk, the Samaanta Foundation, and the Martin Chautari Research Group. Suraj Parajuli has assisted with translation and data collection.

Committee members: Jaimie Bleck (co-chair), Jeff Harden (co-chair), Aníbal Pérez Liñan, A. James McAdams, Karrie Koesel, and Adam Auerbach (external reader)

Fallen brick building and a pile of bricks
Photo taken February 2020