Dispersed and Connected: Plans, Imagination and Realisation of Railway Projects in Mongolia
(Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
This contribution presents field research documentations on recent railway projects in Selenge province in Mongolia and sheds light on railway plans, history and narrations. These infrastructures relate to the extraction and transfer of resources and effect the sociality of workers and herders.
Paper long abstract:
Mongolia's traditionally nomadic and livestock-based economy has undergone significant change towards the mining of minerals since the implementation of the free-market economy in the 1990s. Bulag (2014) speaks in this context of "Mine-golia". In order to transport the minerals to markets in and above all outside Mongolia, especially China and Russia, states and private companies invest in rail and road transport (plans). When the first long distance railway was built as 'a gift from Stalin' between 1947 and 1949, herders who never had seen engine techniques, imagined the railway as a 'metal snake' (tumor mogoi) that drilled mountains and crossed rivers. Today many people have high hope of this infrastructural modernisation and expect better economic development and quality of life as result of the railway expansion. Until now most of the planned new infrastructures such as "The Steppe Road" exist on paper and in the minds. In this research, we are investigating recently realised railway projects in Selenge province in northern Mongolia. The presentation of this infrastructure focuses on the social encounters of and the cultural impact on involved workers, herder families and the natural landscape (including spirit beings). Which economic, ecological and sociocultural changes go hand in hand with the development of the railway? The investigation, based on fieldwork in the years 2017/2018, includes studies on material and visual culture using primary and secondary sources.
Revisiting railroads: sociality, mobility and infrastructure