Accepted paper:

Improvising Life and Order in Northern Northern Mongolia: Reindeer Pastoralism, Governance, and (Un)Certainty


Nicolas Rasiulis (McGill University)

Paper short abstract:

Riskiness and instability inherent to Mongolian Dukha reindeer pastoralists' dynamic lifestyles are effectively dealt with through improvised gestures and strategies. Regulatory institutions' attempts to stabilise Dukha lifestyles pose challenges to which there are only uncertain solutions.

Paper long abstract:

Dukhas realise their livelihoods with domestic reindeer, dogs and horses along nomadic itineraries throughout Mongolia's northern borderland with Russia. Responsible for the wellbeing of themselves, their families, their livestock, their relations with various spirits, and of the ecological integrity of their rugged, remote homeland, Dukha people deal extensively with immediate and long-term riskiness and instability. Risk and instability are dealt with through cooperation, environmental sensibility, and improvisatory acrobacy in gestures and strategies. In so doing Dukhas effectively self-advantageously order the messiness of life in the taiga, as well as of complementing the latter with livelihood practices effectuated in steppes and urban areas unfit for reindeer husbandry. Although the precise configurations of messy situations are unpredictable, Dukhas expect messiness to continually emerge. Thus, Dukhas anticipate and embody inexact strategies with which they may thrive through skilled involvement in the complex challenges that emerge in messy situations. Whilst leading such uncertain and labile lifestyles, Dukhas are subject to the regulatory powers of various institutions (i.e. local/provincial/national governments, military, Tenghis Shishged National Park) which attempt to order these reindeer pastoralists into stable and predictable areas, types, and patterns of activity. Some of the regulations through which these institutions strive for stability hinder Dukhas' abilities to effectively realise their livelihoods. The role of anthropologists within this messy field of relations is inherently uncertain, yet can be anticipated and improvised in ways which help smooth over frictions between Dukhas and regulatory institutions without reducing these labile actors into stable, ethnographically definable entities.

panel LL-NAS07
< order OR stability > Working with pastoral systems in a 'messy' world [Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the IUAES]