Politics of Responsibility in an Increasingly Hazardous Climate: The Case of Herding in Post-Socialist Mongolia
AdvisorSilverstein, Brian E.
Olsen, John W.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation configures winter disasters in Mongolia as a context for examining the "politics of responsibility" in a post-socialist nation. Winter disasters in Mongolia, called zud, are complex events in which unfavorable environmental, climatic, and weather conditions—such as sparse pasture, deep snow, ice, and extreme cold—combine to produce high winter livestock mortality, thus threatening rural livelihoods. Observed and projected climate change raises concerns that zud will increase in frequency and severity. Moreover, social and economic transitions in Mongolia since the end of Socialism have left herders highly exposed to shocks. A zud in the winter of 2009-2010 was especially alarming, being the biggest disaster since 1944, killing almost one quarter of Mongolia's livestock. This event was a testament not only to the destructive power of combined meteorological and environmental factors, but also to persistent vulnerability in rural Mongolia. Focusing on the politics of responsibility surrounding disasters such as zud, this dissertation examines popular discourses of herders as "lazy" and "irresponsible." These discourses arise from "neoliberal" ideologies in post-socialist Mongolia, and from certain values and institutions tied to Mongolia's socialist past. Some foreigners and urban Mongolians speculate that Socialism made herders dependent on state assistance, and now they just need to learn how to take care of themselves. Such assumptions have real impacts, as they influence development program design and policy. Socialism has indeed influenced the ways that Mongolians perceive risk and allocate responsibility in the face of zud. However, the effect has not been to make herders "lazy" and apathetic in the face of increasing risk, but rather the opposite. Socialism fostered strong values concerning work ethic, discipline, and agency. The research incorporated participant observation with herders at a site in the Gobi Desert and comparative research across five sites in Mongolia to record herders' complex strategies for managing risk. Interviews and archival research were used to examine Mongolians' changing attitudes toward risk.
Degree ProgramGraduate College