Urbanizing Tibet’s Minoritized Languages

Dr Gerald Roche

The Department of Politics, Media, and Philosophy at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

Urbanization has recently emerged as a significant means of governing Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), extending the developmentalist agenda initiated at the start of the 21st century. Within the context of plans to increase urbanization rates across the country, Tibetans and Tibetan regions have been targeted for intensified investment in urbanization. These efforts aim to exert greater social control over this restive region, typically through some degree of cultural and linguistic assimilation. However, not all Tibetans are equally affected by this new regime of urbanizing governance. This presentation will adopt the standpoint of Tibetans that speak minoritized languages: the 250,000 Tibetans in the PRC who speak one of approximately 30 languages that are not formally recognized by the state. This standpoint will enable me to explore the uneven impacts of urbanization on Tibetans in the PRC, and to show how lateral violence between Tibetans is deployed by the state in its efforts to dominate Tibetans via urbanization. This reveals the extent to which governance of Tibet through urbanization entails counter-intuitive and non-obvious harms; particularly as a result of how state-sponsored and state-tolerated promotion of Tibetan identity and language differently impacts certain types of Tibetans.


Gerald Roche is a Senior Research Fellow at La Trobe University in the Department of Politics, Media, and Philosophy. He researches the politics of language endangerment and revitalization, and recently edited the Routledge Handbook of Language Revitalization. His recent articles have appeared in China Quarterly, Modern Asian Studies, Asian Ethnicity, and the Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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