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‘Alexa, Was Buddha Born in Nepal?’ Microcelebrity and Digital Diaspora on YouTube, by Dannah Dennis

Monday, February 17, 2020 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

The claim that “Buddha was Born in Nepal” is pervasive in contemporary discourses about Nepali national identity. In this paper, I focus on the ways in which the claim to Buddha’s birthplace is deployed by some Nepalis living beyond Nepal as both a means of maintaining a connection to Nepal as a diasporic homeland and as a means of building their own online celebrity. In particular, I am interested in the ways in which the claim is communicated online by Nepali Youtubers such as Lex Limbu, James Shrestha, and Sagar Tamang, whose videos embed the claim to Buddha’s birthplace within recognizable genres, memes, and narratives that are part of the Internet’s shared culture. I argue that the makers of these videos are not only reaffirming their own sense of connection to Nepal as their diasporic homeland, but are also developing themselves as global citizens who have something important to say to global audiences. Moreover, they are building their own personal brands by linking their own reputations as digital microcelebrities with the Buddha’s global name recognition. Through this case study, I aim to theorize how microcelebrity can be a form of practicing citizenship at a distance within the context of a digital diaspora.

Dannah Dennis is a cultural and political anthropologist whose work examines changing narratives of national identity and citizenship in Nepal.  She is also researching social media in Nepal and the Nepali diaspora, with a particular focus on social media and the formation of personal, political, and gendered subjectivities. She has published work on the gendered and regional exclusions that shape Nepali citizenship law, the politics of infrastructure in Kathmandu, the ambivalent political tensions surrounding Nepal’s claim to Buddha’s birthplace, and the obligations of care in families shaped by transnational migration. Her current book project is titled “Nepali First: Contesting Citizenship in a New Republic.” She completed her Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Virginia in 2017 and is currently a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Hamilton College, where she teaches courses on “Anthropology of Social Media” and “Citizenship in the Global World.”

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Migrations, Anthropology


cashum, isscal, immcal




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Gloria Lemus-Chavez

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Dannah Dennis

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Wheelchair accessible from Tower Road, and from the back of the building across The Statler Hotel. For additional requests please email

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