Dangerous Fortunes: Wealth and Patriarchy in the Mongolian Informal Gold Mining Economy

Type de publication  Thesis
Auteur(s)  High, M.M.
Type de mémoire  Thèse de doctorat
Année  2008
Université  University of Cambridge

Caroline Humphrey


This thesis considers how gendered hierarchies and conceptualisations of wealth in Mongolia inform participation in changing post-socialist labour regimes. Historically Mongolians have condemned and severely punished mining and other activities that violate strict taboos against digging into the land and polluting water sources. However, since the year 2000 an unprecedented large-scale gold rush has begun to take shape, bringing the mass migration of informal miners to frontier areas. Based on fieldwork with herders and miners in the district of Uyanga in Central Mongolia, the thesis provides an ethnographic perspective into the relationship between current labour practices and the traditional moral codes of herders. By documenting how herders and miners relate to the informal mining economy, my research describes how new economic practices are not simply driven by poverty, monetary desire or trans-local forces, but are rather interwoven with local forms of cosmology and social hierarchy. Specifically, it demonstrates how economic transformations destabilise enduring social divisions between herders and miners. I argue that involvement in mining labour regimes enables seasonal miners to assert their autonomy and independence by evading the patriarchal kin organisation of herding families. As the individual accumulation of wealth requires the forging of new ties with spirits of the land, I suggest that cosmologies pertaining to the landscape play a key role in negotiating gendered hierarchies and local participation in new economic practices. I demonstrate how, given the central place of obligatory generosity in Mongolian notions of personhood, miners are incorporated into herding household sociality through the social consumption of alcohol. More broadly, the thesis contributes to anthropological understandings of morality, power and industrialisation within transitional economies.

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