Andrew Grant

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Political and Urban Geography

I completed my PhD in political geography from UCLA in March 2016. My work focuses on the implications of urban development for migrants in the Global South in general, and Tibetans in China in particular.


Dissertation Year Fellowship 2015

Fulbright Hays DDRA 2013-2014 

Selected Publications

Grant, Andrew. 2016. “‘Don’t Discriminate against Minority Nationalities’: Practicing Tibetan Ethnicity on Social Media.” Asian Ethnicity, May, 1–16.

Grant, Andrew. 2016. "Belonging and Ethnicity in China’s West: Urbanizing Minorities in Xining City on the Eastern Tibetan Plateau." Dissertation.

Grant, Andrew. 2014. “Mega-events and Nationalism: The 2008 Olympic Torch Relay” Geographical Review. 104(2).


My book manuscript, Urbanizing Inner Asia: Civilizing the Himalayan Plateau, based on my dissertation, examines the experiences of ethnic minorities leaving their traditional livelihoods behind to move into the Chinese frontier city of Xining. Using qualitative mixed methods, including semi-structured interviews with ethnic migrants and participant observation in urban communities, I demonstrate how these migrants struggle to assert a sense of belonging through urban place-making. I found that existing models of urban encounter failed to explain ethnic tensions in Xining. I argue that, instead, “civilizational urbanization” better accounts for how China’s development trajectory has become entangled with the place-making activities of ethnic minorities. This project was funded by a number of external fellowships, including a Fulbright-Hays award for dissertation research.


My research contributes to geographical debates concerning the nature of urbanization in the Global South. Geographers usually study urbanization through the lenses of either state-managed nation-building or neoliberal dispossession, two processes held to generate social discontent. Scholars have only recently begun to examine how China, Russia, and other powers are consciously mobilizing “civilization” to promote alternative development schemes. Mine is the first study to examine the intimate ways in which civilizational urbanization is altering ethnic communities in contested global borderlands. 

I am beginning a new research project, entitled Reconnecting Inner Asia: Identity, Geography, and Mobility that explores how China’s new Silk Road Belt project is reconnecting China to Kazakhstan and Nepal. As frontier infrastructure grows, so do frontier cities: they become sites of interaction between border peoples whose relations were severed in the 20th century. In contrast to literature that emphasizes the role of border development in contributing to national division, I argue that the hybrid cultural worlds enabled by Inner Asian trans-border urbanization is challenging entrenched regionalisms and leading to new possibilities for trans-border politics.