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Department of Geography


Third Pole: High Mountain Asia, Culture and the Cryosphere Reading Group

In recent years, the idea of the Himalayas/Tibetan Plateau as a ‘Third Pole’ has gained increasing traction. With more snow and ice than anywhere in the world beyond the Arctic and Antarctic, the ‘Third Pole’ invites critical study of the cryopolitics of high mountain and high latitude landscapes, particularly the latency, materiality and scarcity of water resources and their frozen states. The Third Pole neverthetheless differs importantly from its high-latitude counterparts: hosting a denser population, richer species diversity, and fragmented and conflicted governance structures.

This informal reading group will bring together researchers interested in human geography and environmental relations in the Himalaya and Tibet. The fortnightly sessions will consider readings on high-altitude culture, religion, geopolitics, and human/environmental interactions. We will also examine the challenges and opportunities that applying a ‘Third Pole’ label offers to the communities in the region – and international and nation-state actors.

All are welcome to attend this interdisciplinary group. For more information, feel free to contact the organisers:

  • Alice Millington (am2389);
  • Samira Patel (shp45); or
  • Michael Bravo (mb124)

Date and time

Every other Friday from 11am – 12pm (Jan 22nd – March 19th).

Do contact us for the Zoom joining details, which have been circulated by e-mail to members of the Department.


An outline for the session themes can be found below.

Week 1: Introduction to the Third Pole (22nd January 2021)

Introductory discussion on the application of ‘Third Pole’ discourses to the Himalaya/Tibet and direction of the reading group.


Week 2: Environmental relations and the ‘more-than-human’ (5th February 2021)

Week 3: The ‘Third Pole’ and the State – geopolitical dynamics and infrastructure (19th February 2021)

  • Sara Smith. 2012 Intimate geopolitics: Religion, marriage, and reproductive bodies in Leh, Ladakh. Annals of the Association of American Geographers.102(6): 1511-1528.
  • Tina Harris, ‘Lag: Four-Dimensional Bordering in the Himalayas’, in Franck Billé (ed.), Voluminous States: Sovereignty, Materiality, and the Territorial Imagination (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020), pp. 78-90
  • Ruth Gamble, ‘How dams climb mountains: China and India’s state-making hydropower contest in the Eastern-Himalaya watershed’, Thesis Eleven 150, 1 (2019), pp. 42-67

Week 4: The ‘Third Pole’ and non-state actors (5th March 2021)

*Nayanika Mathur, ‘The Task of the Climate Translator’, Economic and Political Weekly, 52, 31 (Aug. 5, 2017), pp. 77-84.

Diemberger, H. (2012). ‘Deciding the Future in the Land of Snow: Tibet as an Arena for Conflicting Forms of Knowledge and Policy’. in Hastrup and Skrydstrup (eds) The social life of climate change models: Anticipating nature, pp. 100-124.

Erik Mueggler, ‘Introduction‘ in The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of West China and Tibet, pp. 1-36. (University of California Press, 2011).

Week 5: The ‘First Pole’ and the ‘Third Pole’ – considering the cultural, environmental and geopolitical interconnections between the Arctic and Himalaya (19th March 2021)

*Bennett, M. (2020) “Scale-jumping in the Arctic Council: Indigenous permanent participants and Asian observer states,” in: Woon, C.Y and Dodds, K ‘Observing’ the Arctic: Asia in the Arctic Council and Beyond. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 54-81.

Diemberger, H et al. (2012) “Communicating Climate Knowledge.” Cultural Anthropology 53(2): 226-244.

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