Accepted Paper:

Original environmentalist society: mobility, national identity, civilization and independence in Mongolia and China  


Bum-Ochir Dulam (National University of Mongolia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that mobility, as practice and as discursive referent, serves a tactical role in environmental and nationalist discourses in Mongolia.

Paper long abstract:

In the age of clash of global capitalism and local cultures, the destructive consequences of mining have made some herders (malchin) into environmental activists in Mongolia and China. Alternatively, some have decided to become herders or return to a herding life to become "authentic" environmentalists. This paper argues that the discourse of environmentalism is a political contest in which participants aim to manifest genuine and authentic environmentalist ideas and practices. According to the pastoral-environmentalists of river conservation movements in Mongolia, herders are the most authentic environmentalists due to their sustainable, mobile way of life. In this way the Indigenous culture of pastoral mobility enters into political ecological discourse. This is a Mongolian response to the stereotypical views of nomadism perceived to be held by foreigners, involving assumptions of barbarism, backwardness, and unsustainability. Moreover, this pastoral identity plays an important role in the construction of the national identity, as promoted by scholars aiming to develop the concept of "nomadic civilizations". Even though a majority of Mongolians today are not herders, this paper argues that the idea of nomadic civilizations serves a function of justifying and consolidating Mongolia's sovereignty and independence on cultural grounds, through establishment of distinctiveness from Russia and China. Therefore, mobility is not only a practical strategy as in the case of herders' environmental protest groups, but also an important cultural referent employed in the making of independence.

Panel LL-NAS02
Cultures of mobility in Inner Asia