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Daniel J. Murphy Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 87, Number 3, Summer 2014, pp. 759-792 (Article) DOI:

Daniel J. Murphy

Daniel J. Murphy Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 87, Number 3, Summer 2014, pp. 759-792 (Article) DOI:

Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 87, Number 3, Summer 2014, pp. 759-792 (Article)

DOI: 10.1353/anq.2014.0051

2014, pp. 759-792 (Article) DOI: 10.1353/anq.2014.0051 For additional information about this article

For additional information about this article


Hybrid Landscapes: Science, Conservation, and the Production of Nature

Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

Daniel J. Murphy, University of Cincinnati

ABSTRACT This article constitutes an attempt to understand political transforma- tions in a pastoral region of eastern Mongolia where senior men, their kin groups, and the ecologies—human and non-human—that bind them have become central nodes in the territorial operation of governance. This po- litical assemblage has emerged in what I call the balance of “mastery,” a tense, uneven entanglement of landscape and authority. The argument combines scholarly interests in political ontologies with analyses of neolib- eral governmentality and rural social change. As such, the article traces the circulation of power, in its various human and non-human guises, through this landscape in ways that demonstrate the productive consequences of unequal agency, including the shifting relations of risk and vulnerability in a dynamic ecology of rule. [Keywords: Neoliberalism, environmental gover- nance, political ontologies, pastoralism, Mongolia]

Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia


In this article, I attempt to explain how senior men, their kin groups, and the ecologies—human and non-human—that bind them have become central nodes in the territorial operation of governance in rural Mongolia. This political assemblage has emerged in the context of recent efforts by the state and other actors to upset what I call the balance of “mastery,” a tense, uneven entanglement of landscape and authority through which territory is organized and governed. These efforts, such as the promotion and institutionalization of neoliberal initiatives including community-based natural resource management and possession leasing of campsites, have been successfully implemented in Uguumur, where this research was con- ducted, but not universally successful elsewhere in the region and coun- try (Upton 2011). As such, this article aims to understand this success in Uguumur, a remote pastoral district in rural Mongolia, and what this might say about how neoliberalism and its incumbent practices and discourses become territorialized in particular places. Combining recent work on “indigenous ontologies” (Blaser 2009; Cruikshank 2005; de la Cadena 2010; Nadasdy 2002, 2007) and the “an- thropology of worlds” (Kohn 2007) with political ecological analyses of neoliberal governmentalities (Agrawal 2005, Ferguson and Gupta 2002, Sharma 2008, Moore 2005, Murray Li 2007), I argue that by de-centering neoliberalism and engaging a broader consideration of political ontolo- gies in our analyses, anthropologists can understand how neoliberalism and neoliberal projects become territorialized and made to “work.” Such a move complements and expands our analyses by providing a fuller under- standing of how spatialized appropriation operates within such milieus and how such workings can become themselves a kind of hybrid “accumula- tion by dispossession” (Harvey 2001). Additionally, by taking the materiality of albeit relational things seriously, we also more fully appreciate the very real consequences such appropriation and dispossession entails. Each of these points requires an analysis of the exercise, administra- tion, and application of rule in particular places or “emplaced governing.” Situated engagements in community based resource management and property-making in rural Mongolia, key nodes of neoliberal development, are therefore a proper ethnographic entry point. Here, we can trace the circulation of power, in its various human and non-human guises, through landscapes in ways that demonstrate the productive and material con- sequences of unequal agency. In doing so, I argue, anthropologists can



broaden our vision of “ecologies of rule” to include explorations of how shifting relations of risk and vulnerability in a dynamic environment marked by catastrophic weather hazards and the encroaching specter of climate change can simultaneously co-constitute and result from such transfor- mations in governance.


Integral to state-led property-making and resource management is the governance of population and territory underwritten by governmentalities or the “rationalities of rule” (Dean 2010, Foucault 1991). In particular, signif- icant anthropological research has focused on how property and commu- nities, through the operation of obligations, duties, rights, and affect, have become critical tools of the neoliberal state in producing rational modes of self-rule (Agrawal 2005, Creed 2006, Ferguson and Gupta 2002, Li 2007, Moore 2005, Sharma 2008, Tsing et al. 2005). The policies and programs I discuss in this article are emblematic cases of neoliberal governmental- ity. possession leasing programs, described in detail below, emerge from a neoliberal drive to “free up nature” so that it can be valued through the application of labor (McCarthy and prudham 2007). Moreover, devolving management authority to individual citizens through such forms of muted privatization lays bare the rational individual’s drive for self-improvement through investment and gain. Community-based resource management programs, emergent from diverse discursive communities on both the left and right, have resulted in the production of what Agrawal (2005:7) calls “regulatory communities.” Such modalities rely on locally meaningful sub- jectivities, positions, and modes of affect in conditioning self-rule, thereby creating efficient governance and space for market imperatives. As I describe below, through such initiatives, senior male authority with- in kin groups has become a vital circuit for these state strategies. Clearly, neoliberal modes of rule are implicated in rural environmental governance in Uguumur. yet, in many ways, narrowing our focus to studying the cir- culation of neoliberal technologies limits our vision for seeing governing as the result of a much broader entanglement of actors, processes, and agencies (de la Cadena 2010). I argue that the actual activities of govern- ing are produced in the interstices of variously interacting, conflicting, and, at times, synergistic agencies engaged in a process of assembling.


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

Drawing on theoretical advances anthropologists have made in science and technology studies allows us to see the actual practice of governing as associations and entanglements of human and non-human agencies emergent in a specific time and space (Hinchliffe 2007; Latour 2004, 2008). Here, I follow the work of Blaser (2009), de la Cadena (2010), Kohn (2007), Viveiros de Castro (1998), Helmreich (2009), Nadasdy (2002, 2007), and others to explore the implications of indigenous ontologies for the study of politics broadly and environmental governance more narrowly (see also Anderson 2000 and West 2006). 1 For instance, de la Cadena argues that by thinking about spiritual presences—which she calls “earth-beings”—as political actors, we both broaden our notion of “politics as a relation of disagreement among worlds” (2010: 346) and force ourselves to “unlearn the single ontology of politics” (2010: 361). This consideration of “political ontologies” (Blaser 2009, Wang 2012) enables the analysis to more fully appreciate “networks of emplacement” (de la Cadena 2010) that are forged through a process of equivocation whereby overlapping concepts (such as “community” or “land”) allow for communication but are not mutually un- derstood (Viveiros de Castro 1998). This process can result in either conflict or a kind of “symbiopolitics” (Helmreich 2009) where synergies are formed between the agencies that make up worlds. In short, by merging recent developments in the study of political ontologies with advances in govern- mentality scholarship, the territorialization of neoliberalism—particularly in its environmental manifestations—is better understood by de-centering it. In other words, by rejecting the singular ontological politics of the modern- ist project that accompanies neoliberalism, we can more fully understand how it sets root and becomes entangled with other “ways of being,” includ- ing the non-human (West 2006). However, the presentation of these various worlds, indigenous per- spectives, and political ontologies can, at times, appear to be re-workings of a static “culture” concept and often lack the dynamism of prior analyses of cultural politics. yet, as de la Cadena (2010) argues, this perspective does not discard the real nature of agency, conflict, and change; rather, it broadens our notion of an “agent” in terms of its relational nature (Kohn 2007, Helmreich 2009, Strathern 2004) and the set of agents to include the non- or partially-human. Consequently, processes of articulation (of variously distributed agencies and subjectivities) are part and parcel to both assemblages of emplaced governing and processes of neoliberal- ization. In this sense, we do not lose sight of the ways in which agency is



distributed and subjectivities are formed in these articulations, whether through various manifestations of local social exclusion or within broader, global political economies, all of which are entangled with political ontolo- gies. Moreover, in a similar vein, we also cannot view these processes in the absence of their human-ecological relationality and the material- ity of such relationships. In other words, as I show, topography and cli- mate change—themselves relational, hybrid, yet material things—are in- tegral agencies in the formation of governance in Mongolian grasslands because, like landscapes (Raffles 2002), emplaced governing is co-pro- duced. Reflecting earlier materialisms in anthropology and more recent critical realist political ecologies (Zimmerer and Bassett 2003), governing, I argue, is not exterior to ecologies but an integral part of its make-up. Environmental governance is, therefore, not the governing of the environ- ment but rather an environment of governing in which human and non- human-derived actions are integral to the ecology of rule itself.

Research Site and Methodology

The data discussed in this article was collected from December 2007 to November 2008 in Uguumur county in Mongolia. Uguumur, officially re- ferred to as the third district or Tsantiin Ovoo, is located in the western third of Bayankhutag county along the Kherlen river valley in southern Khentii province. 2 The ecology of the district is diverse, with vast stretch- es of open, dry desert-steppe broken up by mountain ranges and val- leys, several small ponds, and salt pans and licks. The local plant ecology is dominated by forages found throughout the desert-steppe regions of Mongolia, whereas in mountain valleys other species dominate, and along the river, a five kilometer wide expanse of extremely valuable mixture of feathergrass and other forages runs for nearly 50 kilometers. Wild popula- tions of numerous mammalian and avian species, including wolves and eagles which predate on livestock, add to Uguumur’s rich biotic mix. The climate is extreme continental with bitterly cold, snowy winters where temperatures can occasionally dip below -40° F on winter evenings. Summers are hot and dry, although rainstorms are not infrequent in the early month of June. Fall is pleasant and the temperature drops gradually. Spring, on the other hand, is a period of great uncertainty, as forage is lack- ing, animals are weak and birthing, and weather is unpredictable. A variety of storms, rain, wind, snow, ice, and, most frequently, dust, can appear in


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

a matter of minutes. Herders in Uguumur must constantly navigate such seasonal and daily vagaries in raising their livestock.

At the time of research, the district had a total population of 609 reg- istered citizens divided into 166 registered households. Only 139 house- holds actively herd livestock, and most that do live primarily on the products of their herds. The composition of households

in the district at any given time is

highly varied as the shifting ecol- ogy necessitates a mobile life. Nevertheless, there is a stable core of households that make up the population of the district. The data discussed in this paper were gathered through

a variety of methods including

household survey question- naires, semi-structured and un-

structured interviews, and eth- nographic observation. Detailed data on herding groups and community-based natural resource manage- ment programs were gathered primarily through interviews and observa- tion, and settlement patterns were compiled through data from household survey (n=68 households), participant-observation, and interviewing.


Figure 1: Location of research site.

COMpILED By THE AUTHOR. Figure 1: Location of research site. Landscapes of Rule in Mongolia In

Landscapes of Rule in Mongolia

In 1993, the Mongolian state, responding to the influence of international neoliberal lending agencies, decollectivized the herding negdel (collec- tives) on which herders had depended since the early 1960s. The collec- tives provided both significant technological and economic assistance to herders; and as a socio-political apparatus, the negdel had formed the backbone of rural communities. 3 Following the privatization of state as- sets, households in effect became independent operators without formal means for managing the vagaries of a harsh, dynamic steppe ecology. In particular, herders faced the prospect of moving on their own and secur- ing their own campsites. In concert with decollectivization, policy-makers



instituted a policy of decentralization, relegating resource management authority to local administrative bodies (Enkhbat and Odgaard 1996). Without fiscal support, this policy forced a near complete institutional col- lapse in rural areas (Mearns 1996, 2004a). In short, in the absence of effec- tive regulations, monitoring, and enforcement, pastureland and campsites became de facto open access resources with no state-based recognition of right and minimal recognition of mutually-held customary norms of use. Consequently, as administrative decentralization and devolution became

official state policy, a process of local institutional bricolage, built out of new vulnerabilities and opportunities, was given significant space in which to evolve, leading to alternative governing apparatuses and ad hoc forms of property, territory, and right. As I found in Uguumur, kin modalities, un- derlying moral economies of mutual aid and obligation, and spiritual econ- omies of ritual exchange have become central operative mechanisms in

a new ecology of power constituted through inhabitation of both human

socio-political communities and as key agents in ecological webs. In this section, I consider how “mastery” (e.g., custodial rights of use) and terri- toriality over land have been constituted in this new ecology through shifts

in rural administration, re-invigorated kin modes of affect and dominance,

and a resurgence of spiritual forces.

Masters of the Land The practice of governing, in the traditional sense, refers to the “con- duct of conduct” within families, amongst kin, and in local communities (Foucault 1991). Within Uguumur kin groups, this sense of governing is rooted in the age and gender-based hierarchy of akh-duu, or senior-junior. This modality of power, and its economy of affect and obligation, serves as a political habitus from which subjects formulate courses of action. As such, it affords senior males a position from which they can in the every- day governance of their kin attempt to shape and mobilize the desires, aspirations, and actions of their juniors. 4 The verticality of this hierarchy is manifest in social interaction. Seniors are referred to with the respective ta (formal you), while juniors must avgaalakh (or avoid) using the name of their seniors. patrilineal beliefs encode these senior-junior social roles with traits attributed to ideal father-son (or lineal) relations where juniors display obedience, deference, and respect. In return, seniors provide protection, security, and wise counsel. For example, as I heard many times, ideally


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

juniors must generally ugend orokh (do as their seniors say) by literally “entering their word.” This ideal act of deference is a key to harmonious kin relations. As one wealthy, senior herder explained:

Daniel: …Why are the senior man’s words important? S: This is very important. Our Mongolian people have come from and follow our elders and ancestors. We revere knowledge and experi- ence. Elders have great life experience. They can read the skies and read the signs in nature. What is that there? To the north what is that? What is happening in nature, in the skies? They see the signs. Will a storm come? Will rain or winds come? Do we move? They say move, so we move. Beside this, they have lived many, many years and have many years of work experience. The youth, in this way, must see that this certainly is better than without it. If a man tries to go by his own wisdom, his own brain, his own mind, reading the signs he will have separated himself from this. We must raise life upward, though. We must follow tradition and respect the labor of experienced men who have worked many years. D: So their juniors do as they say? S: Well, yes, of course! you must harmonize your own life! If you harmonize your own life, my life will also harmonize. If you harmonize your life, you can realize much success.

The principles of senior-junior, when operating within kin dynamics kin modalities, can constitute, in themselves, concrete social forms. 5 In Uguumur, senior-junior networks extend out into conglomerations of kin referred to as uls (nation) or buleg (group or gang). These groups are recognized as being neg door (under one) or neg tolgoi (one head), both referring to the central role of akh (seniors) and the singular collectivity of the group. Critical to kin-based cooperation is the ability to gar niilekh or sanaa niilekh, literally meaning “to unite the hands” or “minds,” re- spectively. In most cases, it is seniors who “gar nii-lg-ex” or “to unify the hands.” 6 This power, emerging from a constellation of ecological, spiri- tual, and political powers, is evident in the degree of material and discur- sive control over resource management decisions of juniors. Such power is also an inherent reflection of personal power, or chadal (see Humphrey 1995 for a more detailed explanation). In Uguumur, senior male power is often compared to the power of mountains, such as in the phrase “uul



shig khun” or “man like a mountain.” 7 Senior males are also revered for their knowledge and experience which emanate from their practical and spiritual relationship with the land (see quote above). Moreover, the sym- bolic spatial organization of the ger (=yurt, traditional Mongolian dwell- ing), rituals of birth and death, idol and ancestor worship, marriage rites, and, most importantly, ritual mountain or ovoo worship (uul or ovoo takh- ikh yus) all serve in multiple ways to reinforce and naturalize the material foundations of senior male power. Many of these beliefs and practices invoke patrilineal ideologies that symbolically tie men, particularly senior men, to land in ways that afford them greater privilege. It is through these practices that nutag, customary territory or home- land, comes into being and is invested with meaning and value. Nutag is made not simply through collective use of the land and in concert with local environmental actants, but also through the enacting of social rela- tionships via exchange within the group and ritually between the group and the gazriin ezed (masters of the land), a kind of spiritual essence that rules over the fate of its inhabitants (Humphrey 1995, Sneath 2001). This ecology, and the various patron-client relationships which sustain it, are centrally mediated by male social power via the patriline. 8 This is evi- dent in customary proprietary claims. In exploring campsite disputes, the strongest claim to campsite mastery in Uguumur, a kind of custodial claim and duty, was through patrilineal inheritance. As one herder explained:

…these are campsites that people have come to possess from the ancestors, their uvug, their fathers. For example, here on my camp- site one of my relatives’ father and mother settled here in the past. Exactly here on this campsite they were settling. And his children got it from him and settled here. This is how it is here and now I am here.

The built-up layers of animal droppings (buuts) 9 and other signs of long- term use by patrilineal kin serve as evidence of a deep history of both lin- eage and livelihood on the land. In this context, senior men have come to occupy a privileged but not exclusive position in this hierarchy of mastery.

Territoriality This broad ecology of power, constituted historically through the inter- action of non-human and human actants, enacts a materially significant


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

territoriality in Uguumur. In everyday practice, seniors have a degree of informal control over where juniors settle within the group’s nutag (though there are exceptions). Moreover, these groups monitor and defend their territories in a number of ways. For example, signs of use such as build- ings, motorized wells, and other visible markers reinforce their claims; practices of expulsion (khuukh) such as through theft, territorial satura- tion, and intentional pasture degradation defend them; and the permanent settlement of a poor household from the group monitors them. In order to organize such security measures, I found that seniors play a central role. However, we also must not lose sight of other actors such as protective mountains (numurtei uul), their resident spirits, and other forces. The maps shown here (Figures 2-4) reflect settlement data gathered during fieldwork. They were initially drawn in the field and confirmed by Batdalai in 2008 and were later reproduced in Adobe illustrator. The maps show the configuration of one kin group over the course of several moves. These settlement patterns reflect widespread practices of territoriality in Uguumur. In this section, I describe the interaction of various actants and strategies in constituting these formations. The kin group I describe here consists of a senior male Batdalai (67 years old), five of his younger siblings, and ten of their older children’s households. Of these 15 households, eight are myangat (wealthy herders) with over 1,000 head of livestock (mal). Two of the households are headed by in-laws (khadam), but only one of these cooperates with the rest of the kin group. As the most senior male, Batdalai has considerable leverage both in his use of their territorial homeland (nutag) and in persuading oth- ers to settle in specific locations; although, this is to some degree muted with his oldest younger brother (65 years old) who also holds considerable social weight among his kin. In the first map (Figure 2), I have drawn the settlement pattern around Batdalai’s spring campsite, or khavarjaa, in Tukhum and Khaya to the north where his kin reside. During the collective period, the region called Tukhum was the district’s “otor” reserve, where assigned households would move for fall fattening or to avoid hazardous conditions like drought or win- ter storms. The area around Tukhum and Khaya was the area in which Batdalai’s father herded prior to socialism. During the negdel period, Batdalai and his kin continued to formally occupy the region as negdel employees. However, at times, there would be an influx of households in the fall when the negdel would send other non-local households to take



advantage of the large salt pan. The area is also surrounded by mountains blocking the wind which minimizes the effect of adverse weather condi- tions. It is also situated at low elevation allowing for rainwater pooling and spring fog and dew build up. Around the salt pan is a vast quantity of feath- ergrass as well, providing both protection from the wind and necessary for- age in spring. Relative to other areas of the county, this is one of the most ecologically advantageous for raising livestock. The area to the north close to the river is called Khaya and also is a beneficial region with good quality soda deposits, feathergrass, and river access. It is also low lying despite the exposure to wind. Three wells dot the region allowing for widespread pasture use. Two of these are operated and maintained as private wells even though they are legally designated for public use. The well closest to Batdalai was accorded to him, informally, during privatization. Although he does not technically own it, he regulates its use. The middle well is sparingly used as it is located in an area with poor forage. The well to the east, however, is located in the middle of feathergrass. It was built and maintained by Geserjav, a friend of the group. Because he does not move, he acts as a kind of monitor (or uldsen ail, “left-behind household”) for the group. This is a critical role in maintaining territorial control. In the first map (Figure 2), we see that Batdalai has the most beneficial campsite in Tukhum. He is protected from non-kin households by a semi- circle of mountains running down the east, across the south and up the southwest. The area is also buffered by a swath of extremely poor pasture directly to the west and northwest (govi, or desert) and by the presence of his fellow kin households to the northeast. He can easily drive his animals back and forth to the river or throughout the small valley. He also has ac- cess to the central road. Farther east and northeast, where other non-kin households settle, are the youngest members of the group. It is these households who experience conflict, theft, and attempt to expel other households. progressively older households who are closer to Batdalai did not report encountering these problems. Although there are poor local households that do camp close to him, the only other myangat (a wealthy herder with 1,000 plus head of livestock) who settled in Tukhum in the past has since left due to the groups aggressive efforts at expulsion. He now camps west of the mountains. These patterns, however, are not just a function of household fission and settlement over time. When the group leaves on otor (outside their regular movement patterns) collectively to other non-customary regions,


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia


GOOGLE / TERRAMETRICS / DIGITALGLOBE / GEOCENTRE CONSULTING Figure 2: Territorial configuration of Batdalai’s buleg in

Figure 2: Territorial configuration of Batdalai’s buleg in Xaya and Tuxum beginning in March 2008.


the pattern is replicated. In this case, there is a more explicit organization of household settlement and Batdalai is integral in shaping it. Below, we see the otor settlement pattern in August when the group moved en masse to the eastern side of Bayankhutag, roughly 80 kilometers away from their home nutag, near the Kherlen river in the first district. When households go on otor they must contend with local households and other non-local otor households. In the map (Figure 3), we can see how the group has oc- cupied the northern reaches of a long running valley with Batdalai directly in the middle of the group. There is no well in the valley and the southern reaches have no access to salt pan or soda deposits, preventing the set- tlement of other households. However, as the valley opens up to the flood- plain on the western and eastern sides of the settlement there are other households. In this case, these are other Uguumur households returning




GOOGLE / TERRAMETRICS / DIGITALGLOBE / GEOCENTRE CONSULTING Figure 3. Territorial settlement of Batdalai’s buleg on

Figure 3. Territorial settlement of Batdalai’s buleg on the northeastern border with Batnorov soum in late summer and early fall of 2008.


from otor in the north. yet, they arrived after Batdalai’s group and had to locate themselves in a less advantageous positions. From here, Batdalai can easily graze his herds up and down the valley with little threat from these other households. However, in just a few weeks, the lack of salt pans and soda even in the northern reaches near the river and the evaporation of water pools to the south proved to be too much and so the group orga- nized another move just east of the great Bayan Khuree mountain about 20 kilometers away (see Figure 4). In Figure 4, we see a very similar settlement pattern, adapted as it is to the local terrain. Batdalai has situated himself in a shallow valley between two small mountains. Four of the junior households have also occupied the three small valleys to the north. They are all protected on the east by a long ridge running north and south. On the far side of the ridge to the east


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia


GOOGLE / TERRAMETRICS / DIGITALGLOBE / GEOCENTRE CONSULTING Figure 4: Territorial configuration of Batdalai’s buleg

Figure 4: Territorial configuration of Batdalai’s buleg during late summer and early fall of 2008 near the eastern border of Bayankhutag soum and Sukhbaatar province.


is Tumentsogt county in Sukhbaatar province. The small valleys open to a wide plain, with a stream running at the center of it. Near the stream is a well. Batdalai’s group has effectively occupied the east side of the stream. Since it is fall and the stream is too deep for sheep and goats, herders would be reluctant to cross it with their stock, shielding Batdalai’s group from problems like herd mixing and competitive grazing. On the other side of the stream are a series of local households, none of which have herds comparable to Batdalai or his group. Near the opening of the small val- ley, on each side, he has placed two of his client households. If there are encounters at the well or a theft, then it is more than likely juniors who will contend with it. Conditions proved to be so favorable in this location that



the group wintered here as well, moving camp only once to the north along the stream in another series of valleys. Other groups also practice these territorial strategies and, as I describe below, recent policies and programs have further supported such prac- tices. In home territories, these practices create a deep connection be- tween resident groups and the land. We can see in the map of Uguumur (Figure 5) the territorial location of kin and cooperative groups. This map is a compilation of data from possession lease data, campsite data, in- terview data, and ground observation. Across the district and county, lo- cal place names of these customary regions are strongly associated with particular kin groups. When someone refers to the region of Khaya, other herders understand that this is the territorial nutag of Batdalai’s group and to settle there potentially exposes one to khuukh (expulsion). Moreover, these landscapes are marked by shuutdeg uul (or “mountains of worship”) and are objects of intense devotion and instill an intimate identification and sense of belonging to these specific territories. Consequently, each of these spaces, through everyday practice and mountain worship rituals, over time has become associated with kin groups and their senior males. Moreover, the role of mountains and other non-human actants dem- onstrates the way that the landscape actively participates in the con- stitution of such territorialities rather than acting as an inert “arena” in which herders navigate “nature” like players on the stage. Mountains, for instance, and the spirits that dwell in them are capable of bestowing buyan khishig (good fortune) as well as bad fates on those who inhabit their lands. Herders must engage in proper, ritualized exchange in order to curry favor and minimize offensive actions that evoke the mountain’s wrath. Rain rituals in late spring beckon favor from the mountain spirits (gazriin ezed) and “father sky” (ezen tengger) and appease their appetites. If such prestations are lacking or if spirits become offended, mountains and their spirits can enact serious calamity through drought and winter storms, potentially laying waste to a family’s herd. The material agency of this spiritual ecology is a critical element in forming the balance of territo- rial mastery in Uguumur. Even in the absence of such spiritual ecologies, non-human agencies are ever-present. Events like the sudden onset of tumbleweeds, flash flooding, blizzards, freezing rain, and other uncertainties evince an im- mense material power in the lives of Uguumur herders. Even more proba- bilistic events—like wolf and eagle predation, patchy forage distribution,


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

water evaporation in summer, and spring dust storms—loom large in this political ecology. yet, in other ways, these non-human actants can also be participants in herder strategies as mountains can provide protection against dust storms, tumbleweeds, flash-flooding, and even snowdrifts from blizzards. In short, then, these territorial configurations are nature- culture hybrids and are not solely the creation of human agencies (Raffles 2002). Below I look at how this ecology of power, a balanced assemblage of variously constituted masters, has been modified in recent years fol- lowing not only policy reforms and new programs but also in concurrence with shifting environmental agencies brought about by climate change. As I argue, this mutated ensemble and re-networked assemblage is not

this mutated ensemble and re-networked assemblage is not Figure 5: Territorial locations of the eight major

Figure 5: Territorial locations of the eight major territorial kin groups. The territorial divisions in some of the groups represent seasonal territorials. Batdalai’s group is the darkest grey color.




simply the result of territorialized neoliberal governmentalities but also the articulation of variously powerful agencies.

Collectivizing the Decollectivized and Making “Masters”

From 1999 to 2002, a series of winter disasters (or dzud) struck much of rural Mongolia leading to a 30 percent decline in the national herd from 33 million to just around 20 million, precipitating the near instantaneous impoverishment of thousands of rural households, massive rural to urban migration, and fierce calls in the public arena to strengthen rural resource management policies passed in the mid-1990s that had fallen on deaf ears (Fernandez-Gimenez and Batbuyan 2004, Mearns 2004b). In 1994, the national parliament passed legislation that allowed for campsite leasing, but local governors—who have considerable powers in the current decen- tralized administrative apparatus—viewed the legislation as too weak and ambiguous to enact. Subsequent legislation in 1996 and 1998 also passed without being enacted at local levels. As blame circulated around the halls of government and in the public square following the dzud, the misman- agement of rangelands by herding households was positioned as the cul- prit (Dashnyam 2003, Tumenbayar 2000). 10 Consequently, policy-makers sought to strengthen these prior reforms in ways that would enact a pro- gram of rational pastureland management with herding households being incentivized to properly care for and manage what is widely viewed by the Mongolian public as an increasingly degraded environment. 11 The primary policy and program initiatives offered by the government and NGOs alike have been the furtherance of decentralization through campsite leasing and community-based resource management initiatives. Clearly, neolib- eral rationales lie behind these policies and programs.

Neoliberal Governmentalities and Rural Resource Management The primary thrust of neoliberal conceptualizations of rural resource man- agement has centered around two policy initiatives: decentralization and privatization. Here, I will briefly discuss the discursive genesis of these frameworks. Decentralization concerns the devolution of former central state powers to local actors and administrative bodies and is rooted in social scientific conceptions of collective action and rational choice. Both decentralization


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

and its ally—community-based natural resource management—come from a convenient admixture of both left-leaning and conservative dis- courses about community and the “local.” These initiatives emerged in the 1980s as a backlash against statist approaches to development and de- mocratization. Lack of representation by rural peoples, questions of voice and justice, and other critiques from Southern intellectuals, indigenous groups, and environmental activists initiated what Neil Smith (1992) calls a politics of scale in which critics sought to draw on the power of community to combat the double juggernaut of capital and the state. In academic circles, theories of collective action (Olson 1971), com- mon property (Ostrom 1990), and social capital (putnam 1993) arose as serious counters to neoclassical models of economic development while providing theoretical grounds for community and other non-state development initiatives. The intellectual fusing of these rational choice models with pro-democratic, people-centered, bottom-up development initiatives positioned communities (Creed 2006), the “local” (purcell and Brown 2005), and non-state actors as “natural” vehicles for promoting equity, justice, and sustainability because, in this view, as Tsing et al. point out:

local populations have a greater interest in the sustainable use of resources than does the state or distant corporate managers;…local communities are more cognizant of the intricacies of local ecological processes and practices; and…[they] are more able to effectively manage those resources through local or ‘traditional forms of ac- cess. (2005:1)

By empowering local communities, such moves would engender more appropriate, targeted services, and ultimately foster better governance. Additionally, individuals and communities would become responsible for their own regulation and common well-being. It is no stretch to understand how the theoretical efficiency of such programs found favor with agendas that sought a reduced role for state government and state welfare through the promulgation of structural adjustment reforms (Agrawal 2003). It is through such “privatizations of power” (Zhang 2001) that decen- tralization and community-based approaches to resource management have become a critical tool for establishing governmentalized localities (Agrawal 2005, Ferguson and Gupta 2002, Rose and Miller 2008). By



enlisting local political economies, subjectivities, and modes of affect, states can effectively manage populations through apparently empow- ered forms of self-rule (Sharma 2006). It is, as Berry (1993) has called colonial forms of in-direct rule, “hegemony on a shoestring.” In these contexts, states can rule without ruling while simultaneously supporting their own strategic absence and neglect of duties and obligations, many of which only states can provide. privatization initiatives have a similar genealogy, emerging from Western histories of dispossession (polanyi 2001, Thompson 1966) and modern capitalist economic science, in which the idea of property is central. Only by delimiting individual rights can things be properly valued through the application of labor and effectively priced through market transaction. Although campsite leasing programs are a muted form of privatization, the rationale is effectively the same. By motivating self-interested desires through the “incentives” of private access, property designations foster proper care and investment. In this sense, property is—in conjunction with decentralization and community-based programs—a critical tool of neoliberal imaginaries of self-rule and responsibilization (Rose and Miller 2008). By territorializing state power through individual bodies and de- limited territories, such technologies in effect governmentalize localities in ways that intimately tie them to the state’s own project. The posses- sion lease legislation and community-based program described here in Uguumur are quintessential examples of such efforts.

Programs and Policies In order to alleviate the problems encountered in rural areas since decol- lectivization, in 2002, the parliament passed the most recent land law which gave herding households the opportunity to obtain 60-year non- transferable possession leases to campsites and 15-year leases for wells for small initial fees. At the same time, in development circles, coopera- tive initiatives became the central focus of rural development in the coun- try. As cures for the vacuum left by decentralization, such moves were lauded for the way in which they resembled traditional regimes. In the space vacated by the state, community organizations (i.e., civil society) and possession leasing became the means by which to bring herders into “legal categories” and formalize their rights and claims. By doing so, herders not only invest in the care and maintenance of their “property” as


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

responsible citizens, but also can protect their “traditional” claims against incursion or dispute. In an unpublished, but widely circulated memo entitled “What Should Be Done,” written by Enkh-Amgalan, then director of the most influential think- tank on rural issues in Mongolia, states that the “introduction of contracts aims to make the protection and the efficient use of pasture resources a matter of self-interest to herders” (Enkh-Amgalan 2009). 12 In other words, state-level requirements for the protection and efficient use of resources could be activated by motivating particular desires. Additionally, coordinat- ing these policy initiatives through forms of community could negate equity concerns by drawing on local moral economies of mutual aid and support. Consequently, the possession leasing initiatives were incorporated in most CBNRM (community-based natural resource management) and coopera- tive programs, which he states are the “easy solution” to Mongolia’s cur- rent “pasture problems.” In doing so, these measures would have a poverty alleviation effect by mitigating the exclusionary systems that force poor herders to the margins of the grassland. “Enhancing the collective actions among herders through strengthening the traditional customary arrange- ments is seen as a key to achieving the project objectives” of poverty allevi- ation and rational resource management (Enkh-Amgalan 2009). Evidently, connecting these exclusionary systems with the very communities these programs seek to transform seems lost. In Bayankhutag, where Uguumur is located, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) implemented a local herder cooperative project as an extension of their Rural poverty Reduction project (RpRp) which began in 2003 and grew out of the increasing focus on the estab- lishment of cooperative herders’ groups as a rural development pathway. As stated in a 2008 RpRp pamphlet, the overall goal of the program is “the alleviation of poverty while at the same reducing the detrimental effects of poor management of pastoral environments.” 13 During the seminar that I attended, the provincial project implementa- tion unit (pIU) director reiterated these sentiments saying that the pas- ture management component of the project seeks to do this by empow- ering (chadavkhjuulakh) herders and strengthening (bekhjuulekh) rural livelihoods primarily through cooperative groups (buleg or nuxurlul). The core of the programs institutional activities in regards to herder groups would be centered on ezemshuulex, a term which references the word ezen (master) and the verb ezemshix (to possess/have mastery over).



Ezemshuulex, in this sense, means “to afford possession” or, literally, “to make masters.” In order to accomplish this, the program, according to the rationale stated above, has required that herder groups obtain possession leases for a minimum number of winter and spring campsites (two of each) and, in conjunction with registering as a herder group, each cooperative is provided possession leases for renovated or, in some cases, new motor- ized wells. Following familiar arguments, project staff and local committee members at the two meetings I sat in on continually reiterated two points:

1) secure access to resources enables the poor to benefit more from those resources, increase production, and better manage risk, and 2) institu- tionalizing property rights incentivizes individuals to properly care for and invest in the natural resources they use.

DIY Governance The RpRp began in Khentii in 2003 along with the 3 other provinces:

Bulgan, Khuvsgul, and Selenge in the northwest. Bayankhutag county— where the research site Uguumur is located—began program operations in 2006. In the six years since the program began in Khentii province, 19 counties have benefitted directly. The pasture Management division of the program has helped establish 330 herder cooperatives groups in 19 counties. Of those 330, only 122 are currently operating—mostly in the far northern regions where livelihoods are more settled and, as I describe in detail below, in the south where increasing aridity and herd sizes are fos- tering increased competition for resources. Local governors across the province that I interviewed were quite wel- coming of the program, seeing it as a critical governance tool. In their view, since they could not regulate and monitor such a vast territory, herd- ers must do it themselves (uursduu zokhitsuulakh), and cooperatives were an important pathway for this kind of “do-it-yourself” governance. For example, the district governor in Uguumur felt that, although the coop- eratives were playing no role in reducing poverty or combating environ- mental degradation, they were important for monitoring and regulating land use. Despite negative sentiments from non-cooperative households, cooperative herders also lauded the institutional governing capacity of these groups because, as they argued, since decollectivization there is no “neme” or support from administrators or governors, and now these groups can do it themselves. 14


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

yet the success of the program has depended, to a great extent, on the political economy of affect, obligation, and obeisance that undergirds kin groups in Uguumur and the spiritual economy in which power be- comes meaningful. In late 2005, the district governor announced at a dis- trict herder meeting that the RpR program would be starting in Uguumur. Representatives from the provincial office were in attendance and provided herders with a short lecture and a handbook about the project. According to the program officer in Bayankhutag, they informed the herders that cooperatives would share labor, protect pasture, and take over well op- eration and maintenance, thereby helping reduce poverty and—stating a new rationale—stem the effects of global warming; surely, a tall task. They specifically targeted kin groups, requesting seniors to organize their kin into group. The program officer told me that kin groups were best because they were of neg tolgoi (one head) and would neg yavax (go as one). It should come as no surprise then that it has been largely kin groups with central, wealthy, senior males that have become involved in the program (7 out of 8). The groups were required to elect a senior leader (akhlagch)—which was largely a foregone conclusion—and establish rules for restocking poor households thereby maintaining and formalizing the patron-client modalities at the heart of these groups (see Murphy in press). In fact, mountain worship rituals were often cited as evidence of group “cooperation,” even though they are male-only events and are centered around senior-junior principles. Consequently, these programs have formalized these territorialities and the monitoring, defense, and en- forcement tactics of kin groups. In addition, this new landscape of power has led to the failure of a number of the projects’ stated goals, includ- ing its vision of equity, poverty alleviation, and the inclusion of marginal households in resource management. In fact, the majority of households in the cooperative program would be described as bayan, or wealthy. At the time of research, the leaders of the six official and two unofficial groups are some of the wealthiest households in the district, the county, and even the province. The failure of this program to achieve these goals is clearly rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of rural political economies and the con- stellations of territorial authority that have emerged in the years since de- collectivization. Rather than empowering the poor and marginalized, the program fused new, formal rights on these existing forms of power and subjectivity. But why has it been so “successful” in Uguumur?



Hybrid Governance

Regardless of the degree to which governors and administrators support- ed this program, this project has been a failure across the province as it has not become the pathway for manageable, replicable rural governance as envisioned by project designers, think-tanks, academics, parliamentar- ians, and others. According to the project implementation unit director, over half of the groups in the province have dissolved and the success of the program has been atomized in the settled areas of the north and pock- ets of the increasingly arid and highly nomadic south. Uguumur district has been one of those successes and, although it has few groups compared to other districts, the per capita participation is high with nearly half the households in the district registered. Moreover, the groups tend to be large and made up exclusively of actively herding households. When I left the field, there were six official groups as well as two more in the process of registering. Understanding why this program was a success in Uguumur is important to demonstrating how governance is spatialized through these groups. yet, I argue that neither tracing neoliberal rationalities in project

Figure 6: Comparison of leasing rates between provincial counties.

CountyLinear (County)

Linear (County)

70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0 Percent Leases Available
Percent Leases Available








Percent of Households with Registered Leases


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia









Figure 7: Temperature data collected from the provincial Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology weather station. July is a critical month in which high temperatures can increase evaporation.

July Avg. Temp.Linear (July Avg. Temp.)

Linear (July Avg. Temp.)

25 20 15 10 5 0 Temperature in Degrees Celsius
Temperature in Degrees Celsius

Average July Temperature

Figure 8: Rainfall is typically variable, but as we can see, there is a clear downward trend.

Annual precip. TotalsLinear (Annual precip. Totals)

Linear (Annual precip. Totals)

350 300 250 200 150 100 50 0 Millimeters of Rainfall
Millimeters of Rainfall








Annual Precipitation




design nor simply by exploring the way implementation nefariously aligns subjective desires with state strategy can fully provide us that understand- ing in this case. Rather, I argue that we must consider a broader range of factors. Here, in addition to the political synergies enabled by various forms of equivocation, appropriation, and incorporation, as well as in- creasing aridity, massive increases in livestock, and highly variable and patchy distribution of environmental resources have played key roles in producing Uguumur as a fertile entry-point for neoliberal rule. Uguumur has one of the highest livestock per capita ratios in the coun- try with 192 head of livestock per household. Moreover, Uguumur, as of 2008, had 28 myangat malchin (“herders of 1,000 livestock”), the highest concentration of wealthy herders in the country. Many of these herders reside in Uguumur’s far west, a region noted for plentiful but highly patchy distribution of critical resources like salt deposits, water, and forage par- ticularly suited to sheep and horses, the most profitable livestock species in this region. With such a high concentration of wealth and resources, it is evident that this area would be the most competitive pastureland in the county, if not the province. It is for this reason that Uguumur has the high- est rate of campsite possession leasing in the whole province. The success of the project in Uguumur can be seen by comparing pos- session leasing rates between counties and districts. In Figure 6, we see that Bayankhutag county has a high participation rate (38 percent) and the highest percentage of leased campsites (62 percent). 15 In fact, this is the most unequal distribution of campsites among the various counties, which is interesting because other counties began leasing much earlier. Additionally, although other counties have greater participation rates in co- operative projects, only in Bayankhutag have nearly all of the cooperative group members individually acquired possession campsites. Uguumur has half of all leases in Bayankhutag (48 of 96). It is also a reflection of the high level of socio-economic inequality in Uguumur as 52 percent of leases in Uguumur are held by myangat, almost all of whom are members in coop- erative groups, with most of the remaining leases held by their kin. As leases have bestowed a significant amount of rights and privileges on leaseholders, it is critically important to understand their place in herder territorial strategies. Moreover, it is duly important to situate these strategies in a dynamic and shifting ecology. Many of the akhlagch that I interviewed stated they would not have formed their groups if grass were plentiful. The motive for group formation was largely an adaptive response to changing


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

ecological conditions and increased competition. Although akhlagch also stated that they organized these groups in order to cement their control over wells and territory to which they had both a spiritual and economic attachment, this rationale cannot be viewed outside of recent shifts in local ecological dynamics and the role of other actants. With increasing sum- mer temperatures and wildly fluctuating rainfall patterns from year to year, herders have also noted an increased frequency of drought. As we can see in Figure 7, the temperature data I collected from the local weather station, shows that there has been a steep increase in July temperatures over the last 15 years. Moreover, in Figure 8, we see that rainfall has significantly decreased over that same time period. In fact, the years 2006 and 2007, the first two years of the program, were the driest and warmest on record. In this context of sustained drought, maintaining and strengthening control over pasture has become critical. In fact, several akhlagch stated their goals were to protect pasture against incursion from other house- holds into their territory. As one group leader described:

Herder: Since nature has become like this, where land and water are becoming scarce…we formed this group to improve our livelihoods and protect our pasture. Daniel: How do you protect pasture? H: We attempt to protect our customary territory ourselves and this project allows us to do so. D: What do you protect the pasture from? H: We protect the pasture from other local households, outside households, households on otor, whatever kind of household!

During my research, I collected data on campsite and pasture disputes. Nearly all of the disputes occurred between herders on otor, fleeing their home nutag due to drought conditions. Many of these households came from Galshar county to the south where herders stated desertification is significantly worse. In fact, in one interview, a senior herder stated that disputes used to exist everywhere. Herders would come from all direc- tions to Uguumur and, at other times, Uguumur herders might move in any direction depending on the conditions. Although most disputes were not like they are today; nowadays, he said, disputes only involve people from the south. When I asked him why, he stated “delkhiin duularal,” or global warming. In another instance, the local county project coordinator,



in contrast to project rationale, explicitly evoked global warming as a criti- cal element in promoting cooperatives:

On one side, the project is meant to reduce poverty; on the other side, it is meant to help herders deal with natural change and global warming. Herds and herd income has decreased for most house- holds. From this project’s support, a household with 200 to 300 head of livestock can finally exit poverty and “cross the ovoo.” Because of environmental risk, drought, and dzud, the expense and additional needs of herders are increasing and animals will be lost.

Although such dramatic ecological shifts clearly present agencies with which herders must contend, how do possession leasing and cooperative formation actually benefit them in such conditions? Indeed, there is much dispute in Uguumur as to how herders’ rationales of protection actually work in practice. The district governor, who is him- self a herder, disputed the rationale of pasture protection.

Daniel: If there are a lot of households [neg door] it’s difficult, right [to protect pasture]? Ts: yes, of course. Going like this the land, the grass, the water will disappear. They will trample it and degrade it and will become bald. D: These groups say they can protect pasture and so they form these groups. In your opinion can they protect pasture? Ts: No, they cannot. There are many animals. For example, if ten ail are together [neg door], Luvsandorj has seven or eight under him, they will eat up all the grass by “going as one” [neg yavax].

yet, I argue that the district governor underestimates herder rationales. Although there are problems with pasture protection strategies, I contend that, on the whole, they are largely successful because he misinterprets what herders mean by “protect pasture” (belcheer khamgalakh). He un- derstands this to mean that herders are intent on conserving pasture for the purposes of preventing overgrazing or combating desertification. From the perspective of cooperative groups, however, protecting pasture refers only indirectly to these problems. Rather, the groups, and primarily the akhlagch, are concerned with excluding competitive use of pasture- land in the strategically well-endowed regions of their home territories or


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

nutag. Akhlagch and large herd-owners fully understand the implications of their own excessive grazing. In contrast, their strategies are to access as wide a range of resources as possible and secure what they can. By securing a large territory with campsite and well leases, and through ter- ritorial practices—such as khuukh (which they are now legally entitled to do)—akhlagch can prevent others from grazing their customary pastures while they themselves use pasture elsewhere through otor (non-custom- ary moves), stock placement (mal tavikh, “to put livestock”), and various other mobile strategies. In fact, cooperative group leaders are among the most strategically mobile of all households. In many ways, what has occurred is contrary to the predictions of pro- gram designers and policy-makers. Instead of investing in the mainte- nance of their own pastureland for continued use, herders are investing in securing their own pasture as good year reserves and opportunistically grazing others’ during drought and times of stress. 16 During good times, they have access to the best pasturage, their own; during bad times, they are the most capable of moving. Additionally, with the increased legal enti- tlements and organizational capacity obtained through the leasing and co- operative programs, these groups and their leaders can more effectively defend their land from incursions during those bad times and exclude oth- ers in the community who otherwise would have a claim during the good.


Former rights of mastery were an outcome of one’s position in a dynamic assemblage of intersecting agencies, a kind of tense ecology in which spiritual forces, kinship-based modes of rule, and the various duties, ob- ligations, and exchanges that sustain them were constituted in relation with an active, “lively” landscape. This vibrant assemblage of differen- tially distributed agencies, in the context of decentralization, produced articulations of entitlement that privileged some and excluded others. yet as clients, competitors, or unruly neighbors, these other households played critical roles in formulating this ecology of power. By demarcating and limiting the space in which others can carry out livelihood activities and shifting the tense balance of mastery through formalization, the state has, in effect, dispossessed a large portion of rural society of their role in formulating that very balance. It is through this incursion that neoliberal



forms of rule have become critical elements in the architecture of govern- ing in Uguumur. Nevertheless, leasing through cooperatives has not all together changed the nature of “making masters” (ezemshuulex) and gov- erning to ones in which custodial possession is mediated solely between citizens and the amorphous neoliberal state, even though some activists and even the state itself might like to view them in such light. In contrast, neoliberal forms of governance have become integral—but not central—in these synergistic, hybrid processes of “accumulation by dispossession.” The appropriation and realignment of the intended project goals and out- comes by akhlagch and others demonstrates this. In addition to these “networks of emplacement” (de la Cadena 2010), it is clear that shifting weather patterns and increasing frequency of drought ripened space within Uguumur for these programs and policies to become territorialized. In other words, neoliberal governmentalities operate only because the balance of mastery had shifted in ways that certain agen- cies—i.e., climate and weather (themselves hybrid, relational “things”)— had forced actors within that assemblage to consider them. Similar to the work of Blaser (2009) and others, it was only by engaging with other political ontologies, de-centering neoliberalism, and opening up the study of governing to the entanglements of emplaced governing that one could understand how and why these neoliberal technologies became territori- alized in Uguumur. This is important because the programs and policies have not resulted in what designers and implementation units planned. In many ways, the dynamic, lively presence of other agencies foiled the goals of these projects which assumed an inert, unchanging “nature” and, in turn, inert, unchanging interests amongst herders; attributes of the sin- gular, modernist political ontology that underlies neoliberal perspectives. Lastly, achieving this kind of understanding is critically important be- cause of the serious consequences these developments have had for the poor. Instead of including the most marginal, fostering space for labor co- operation, restocking the poor, and thereby reducing poverty and inequal- ity, none of which these groups actively do in any significant sense, the cooperatives have instead become an integral tool in herders’ strategies of securing territorial space. Consequently, these new “symbio-politics” (Helmreich 2009) entail new spatial exclusions that limit household and herd mobility, thereby shifting the relations of risk in ways that severely increase the vulnerability of poor to catastrophic weather hazards and the growing array of threats posed by a rapidly changing climate. n


Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia


Financial support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (Dissertation Improvement Grant 0719863), Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Institute for International Education Fulbright program, Lambda Alpha National Honor Society, and the University of Kentucky with institutional support from the National University of Mongolia, Center for Development Research, and the American Center for Mongolian Studies. I would like to thank the people of Uguumur, Bayankhutag, and Undurkhaan who were so welcoming, understanding, and caring throughout the re- search and my various trials and tribulations. I would also like to acknowledge the support of peter Little, Lisa Cliggett, and other faculty in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky. Lastly, I would like to extend a great deal of gratitude to Reade Davis and Laura Zanotti for organizing the session that led to the development of this article and for investing great effort in bringing it to publication. Though many contributed to this work, all errors of commission and omission are my own.


1 See Morten pedersen’s (2011) work for examples from Mongolia.

2 My use of the name “Uguumur” is somewhat arbitrary. The area is typically referred to as “gurav dugaar district” or third district in local speech and on official documents as Tsantiin Ovoo. But “third district” is too cumbersome and many would not recognize the name Tsantiin Ovoo. In the past, however, much of the area was referred to as Uguumur, owing its namesake to a large mountain in the middle of the dis- trict. Each area of the district has its own place name and many of these overlap into other districts and counties.

3 See the work of Rosenberg (1981), Humphrey (1978), and Goldstein and Beall (1994) for negdel operations.

4 See Sneath (2000, 2007) for similar arguments.

5 Akh-duu can also be used to refer to friends and acquaintances more broadly (Humphrey 1995). “Akh” in these contexts simply means someone who is older, and “duu” means someone who is younger. Nevertheless, the senior-junior framework still operates in order to formulate an age-based hierarchy that regulates the kinds of duties and obligations the relationship entails.

6 The causative infix -lg- or -uul- shift the meaning of gar niilekh from “unite the hands” to “make the hands unite” or gar niilekh.

7 In Mongolian spiritual geographies, features of the landscape are differentiated in two primary ways: 1) through gender and 2) through chadal or a kind of mystical power, force, and effectiveness (also ability). In many ways, these two elements are mutually constitutive, as the spirits that inhabit and exhibit control or possessiveness over space as “masters” are differentiated in such ways. These spirits baigali zoxiruulax, or control nature (literally “state of being”) (Sneath 2001), and include deities, spirits, dragons, and other “beings” that inhabit spaces like mountains and lakes. These spirits/landscape features (de la Cadena’s [2010] term “earth-beings” seems especially appropriate) are even given titles (like khan, king) and are ascribed with characteristics normally reserved for humans (like buyantai, charitable). See Sukhbaatar (2001) for detailed discussion.

8 There is considerable scholarly work on these themes in Mongolian ethnography (see Sneath 2000, Humphrey 1995, Humphrey and Onon 1996, Humphrey and Xurelbaatar 2006, pedersen 2011, Empson 2011). In many ways, Uguumur seems to be on one end of the spectrum in terms of the salience of these modalities in daily life. The dominance of these patrons in this particular locality does not necessarily resonate in other locales. Much of this, I argue, can be attributed to the vast build-up of livestock wealth in Uguumur. In other counties I visited, which were significantly poorer in livestock, the tendencies toward strongly affiliated patron groups was more tempered. Even in Uguumur, there were counter-movements. In fact, one cooperative group not discussed in this article was made up of youth; however, the group did not survive longer than a year.

9 Elsewhere, I describe the ways buuts connect patrilineal beliefs with notions of campsite rights (Murphy


10 A 2005 Government of Mongolia report argues: “cultural norms and mentalities dating to the socialist times [which] have meant many within this group [poor herders] exhibit ready-made mentalities, are wel- fare dependent, and lack their own initiative to escape their current conditions.” In fact, in 1999, the prime Minister publicly stated that Mongolians must “stop being nomads!” since the “continuance of mobile livestock keeping was only a source of ‘vulnerability’ to the Mongolian people” (GOM 2005).



11 This is, however, highly debatable. There have been a number of local studies, principally in areas around the capital that have shown increased degradation. Overall, though, there is little data that effec- tively demonstrate that this is the case in more rural areas.

12 The basic argument of this unpublished memo was previously published as “Let’s Decide the pasture Issue this Way” Zunii Medee 30, Dec 18, 2007.

13 This information is also available at www.ifad.mn.

14 One non-cooperative household was angered by the fact that most households in the “poverty reduc- tion program” were the wealthiest. He said to me, “how can they reduce poverty, when none of them are poor?!”

15 The number of campsites available is set by the county pasture management committee which is typi- cally made up of the county governor, the district governors, the MoFALI (Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry) extension agent, and council representatives.

16 In many ways, this is very similar to what occurred during the implementation of the household respon- sibility system in Inner Mongolia (Williams 2002).


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Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia

F o r e i g n L a n g u a g e Tr a n s l a t i o n s :

Ecology of Rule: Territorial Assemblages and Environmental Governance in Rural Mongolia [Keywords: Neoliberalism, environmental governance, political ontologies, pastoralism, Mongolia]

Төрйин экологи: Монгол хөдөөний газар нутгийн “асэмблажэс” ба байгаль орчны удирдлага [Түлхүүр үг: нэоливэрализм, байгаль орчны удирдлага, улс төрйин гүн ухаан, нүүдлийн мал аж ахуй]

Ecologia da Ordem: Assemblagens Territoriais e Governança Ambiental na Mongólia Rural [Palavras-chave: Neoliberalismo, governança ambiental, ontologias políticas, pastoralismo, Mongólia]



Экология правления: территориальные собрания и экологическое правление в сельской Монголии [Ключевые слова: неолиберализм, экологическое правление, политические онтологии, пасторализм, Монголия]

ايلوغنم فير في ةيئيبلا ةرادلإاو ةيميلقلإا تاعمجتلا :مكحلا ةئيب ]ايلوغنم ،ةيوعرلا ،س يسُلما ّ تانئاكلا ملع ،ةيئيبلا ةرادلإا ،ةديدجلا ةيلابريللا :ثحبلا تمالك