Modernising Tibet: Contemporary Discourses and Practices of “Modernity'

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Kolås, Åshild (2003) Modernising Tibet: Contemporary Discourses and Practices of “Modernity', Inner Asia 5: 17–37.

Pilgrimage and the rebuilding of religious sites are immensely popular in contemporary Tibet.

The state-controlled media commonly attribute such religious practices to undesirable attitudes of 'traditionalism', and claim that the 'traditional ideas' of farmers and herders and their 'poor sense of commodity' represent major obstacles to economic development. At the same time positive images of 'modernisation', represented by state-sponsored development projects and targets for economic growth, are given extensive coverage. This paper investigates discourses and practices of 'modernisation' in contemporary Tibet, questioning the alleged conflict between 'modernity' and 'tradition'. Firstly, it discusses some of the competing representations of 'modernity' in the mass media, in popular literature, as well as in political discourse. Secondly, it describes 'modernity' as it is practised in the display and use of consumer goods by urban Tibetans, and investigates reactions to urban reconstruction and development projects in and near the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

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