Geoff Childs

​Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology
PhD, Indiana University
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Professor Childs' research occupies the interdisciplinary space between anthropology and demography. He regularly visits the Tibetan enclaves in northern Gorkha District, Nepal, to study local history, family management strategies, demographic trends, and a host of other topics.

Professor Childs' research occupies the interdisciplinary space between anthropology and demography, and thereby involves the integration of qualitative and quantitative methods. He uses demography as a tool to understand what is happening within a population, for example, to reveal the timing and magnitude of a fertility decline, or to discern patterns of out-migration. He then uses ethnography to gain leverage on what drives these trends, and how they impact the lives of individuals.

Working between a positivistic discipline (demography) whose practitioners prefer to study phenomena that can be measured and quantified, and a reflexive discipline (anthropology) whose practitioners tend to celebrate their innumeracy, poses certain challenges. But those challenges are outweighed by the rewards of stimulating research, collaboration with colleagues across the disciplines, and the ability to publish in professional journals outside of anthropology. Thus far Childs has completed research on four distinct Tibetan societies.

Research Projects

Population regulation, resources, and family management strategies in the agro-pastoral communities of Nubri, Nepal

This resulted in a PhD in Anthropology and Tibetan Studies from Indiana University, and several publications including Tibetan Diary (2004, University of California Press), a book that is widely used in undergraduate courses. I return to Nubri regularly, and am involved with the non-profit organization Nepal SEEDS (www.nepalseeds.org) that supports traditional medical practitioners, women’s health programs, and a secular education system that promotes the indigenous language.


Historical demographic research centering on the affects that the traditional Tibetan land tenure system had on family management strategies and fertility outcomes in Kyirong District, Tibet

For this research I pioneered methods for analyzing data from a 1958 Tibetan household register, then tracked down and interviewed over 150 people who had been enumerated in that document fifty years ago. In brief, the land tenure system provided strong incentives for people to practice fraternal polyandry, the custom whereby brothers take a common wife. This moderated aggregate fertility by excluding many women from marriage.
 

The political and social contexts of family planning among Tibetan exiles living in South Asia

The project derived from the identification of a rapid fertility decline among Tibetan exiles during the 1990s which raised a paradox: how could fertility decline so rapidly in the context of a strong pronatalist movement? As it turned out, individual families’ concerns over raising high-quality children trumped nationalistic calls to produce many kids for the benefit of the nation. 


The impacts that rapid development is having on inter-generational relations and care for the elderly in rural areas of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region

This collaborative project with Melvyn Goldstein (Case Western Reserve University) and Puchung Wangdui (Tibet Academy of Social Sciences) has challenged the notion that development’s impact is necessarily negative on the well-being of the elderly. In addition, we have provided some of the most in-depth and ethnographically informed perspectives on social, economic, and demographic changes occurring in Tibet in the wake of China’s massive development efforts.

 

Selected Publications

Books

Childs, Geoff and Choedup, Namgyal. 2018. From a Trickle to a Torrent: Education, Migration, and Social Change in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal. University of California Press.

Childs, Geoff. 2008. Tibetan Transitions: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Fertility, Family Planning, and Demographic Change. Leiden: Brill.

Childs, Geoff. 2004. Tibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Journal Articles

Childs, Geoff and Namgyal Choedup. 2015. From Servant (g.yog mo) to Disciple (slob ma): Modernity, Migration, and Evolving Life Course Options for Buddhist Nuns. In From Bhakti to Bon: Festschrift for Per Kvaerne. Oslo: Novus.

Geoff Childs, Namgyal Choedup. 2014. Indigenous Management Strategies and Socioeconomic Impacts of Yartsa Gunbu (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) Harvesting in Nubri and Tsum, Nepal. Himalaya 34(1): 8-22.

Geoff Childs, Sienna Craig, Cynthia M. Beall, and Buddha Basnyat. 2014. Depopulating the Himalayan Highlands: Education
and Outmigration From Ethnically Tibetan Communities of Nepal. Mountain Research and Development 34(2): 85–94.

Goldstein, Melvyn C., Geoff Childs and Puchung Wangdui. 2010. Beijing’s “People First” Development Initiative for the Tibet Autonomous Region's Rural Sector--A Case Study from the Shigatse Area. The China Journal 63:57-75.

Goldstein, Melvyn C., Geoff Childs and Puchung Wangdui. 2008. “Going for Income”: A Longitudinal Analysis of Change in Farming Tibet, 1997-98 to 2006-07." Asian Survey 48(3):514-534.

Childs, Geoff and Gareth Barkin. 2006. Reproducing Identity: Using Images to Promote Pronatalism and Endogamy among Tibetan Exiles in South Asia. Visual Anthropology Review 22(2):34-52.

Childs, Geoff, Melvyn C. Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Cynthia M. Beall. 2005. Tibetan Fertility Transitions in China and South Asia. Population and Development Review 31(2):337-349.

Childs, Geoff. 2005. Methods, Meanings, and Representations in the Study of Past Tibetan Societies. Journal of the International Association for Tibetan Studies 1(1):1-13

Childs, Geoff. 2005. Namas (mna' ma) and Nyelus (nyal bu): Marriage, Fertility, and Illegitimacy in Tibetan Societies. In Tibetan Identity and Change: Along the Margins, ed. C. Klieger. Leiden: Brill.

Childs, Geoff. 2004. Ethnographic and Demographic Analysis of Small Populations Using the Own-Children Method. Field Methods 16(4):379-395.

Childs, Geoff. 2003. Polyandry and Population Growth in a Historical Tibetan Society. The History of the Family 8(3):423-444.

Childs, Geoff. 2001. Demographic Dimensions of an Inter-Village Land Dispute in Nubri, Nepal. American Anthropologist103(4):1096-1113.

Childs, Geoff. 2001. Old-Age Security, Religious Celibacy, and Aggregate Fertility in a Tibetan Population. Journal of Population Research 18(1):52-66.

From a Trickle to a Torrent Education, Migration, and Social Change in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal

From a Trickle to a Torrent Education, Migration, and Social Change in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal

By Geoff Childs (Author), Namgyal Choedup (Author)

What happens to a community when the majority of young people leave their homes for the opportunity of obtaining an education? From a Trickle to a Torrent documents demographic and social consequences of educational migration from Nubri, a Tibetan enclave in the highlands of Nepal. The authors explore parents’ motivations for sending their children to distant schools and monasteries, social connections that shape migration pathways, young people’s estrangement from village life, and dilemmas that arise when educated individuals are unable or unwilling to return and reside in their native villages. Drawing on several years of research, this study documents a transitional period when the future of a Himalayan society teeters on the brink of irreversible change.

Tibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal

Tibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal

In this rich and deeply personal account of life in the highlands of Nepal, Geoff Childs chronicles the daily existence of a range of people, from venerated lamas to humble householders. Offering insights into the complex dynamics of the ethnically Tibetan enclave of Nubri, Childs provides a vivid and compelling portrait of the ebb and flow of life and death, of communal harmony and discord, and of personal conflicts and social resolutions. Part ethnography, part travelogue, and part biography, Tibetan Diary is a one-of-a-kind book that conveys the tangled intricacies of a Tibetan society. 

Childs's immensely readable and informative narrative incorporates contemporary observations as well as vignettes culled from first-person testaments including oral histories and autobiographies. Examining the tensions between cultural ideals and individual aspirations, he explores certain junctures in the course of life: how the desire to attain religious knowledge or to secure a caretaker in old age contrasts with social expectations and familial obligation, for example. The result is a vivid and unparalleled view of the quest for both spiritual meaning and mundane survival that typifies life in an unpredictable Himalayan environment.