WP225 Structures of feeling in language policy: The case of Tibetan in China

Zhang & PĂ©rez-Milans
Collection: Key word


Though widely regarded as a relevant research approach, the field of ethnography of language policy still faces challenges that need attention. On the one hand, research on language policy continues to put ethnography aside in many national regions. On the other, ethnographically-oriented investigations often rely on very holistic approaches to meaning and context, this leaving us with broad-brush portrayals in which language policy issues are detached from the situated dynamics of meaning-making out of which wider structural constraints get re-contextualized and re-configured under changing socioeconomic and political conditions. Against this background, this article examines the case of minority languages in China, an area of enquiry that has received increasing attention as new studies report on how the lack of institutional recognition that such languages receive erodes ethnic minority identities and disempowers social actors living in minority areas. Drawing on Williams’ (1977) notion of ” structures of feeling ” , we empirically examine individuals’ engagement with language policies in situated practices at a secondary school located in an ethnically diverse city in southwestern China in which Tibetans constitute the largest ethnic minority group. Our data show emergent communicative forms, or ” structures of feeling ” , through which school actors enact, challenge and shape an institutional logic that marginalizes the Tibetan section within the school and constructs Tibetan language education as a pedagogical space with no room for Tibetan religious content.