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Accepted Paper:

Between Words, Between Worlds: the generative potential of Ulaanbaatar's periphery  


Elizabeth Fox (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines 'the between' from the point of view of the periphery, drawing on ethnography conducted in the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in conjunction with a uniquely generative feature of the Mongolian language to reformulate questions of opposition, continuity, and potentiality.

Paper long abstract:

Based on long-term fieldwork on the urban periphery or "ger districts" of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of a country wedged between two global powers, China and Russia, and two continents, Asia and Europe, this paper proposes a multi-faceted and speculative engagement with the concept of the between. To do so, it draws on the ger district as a place not only located physically between the countryside and the city, but a conceptual space defined against these two more-readily-established sites of meaning. Doing so requires a new theoretical vocabulary to account for this unique semi-legal, peri-urban zone in which formerly nomadic gers sit stationary while dirt paths are inscribed through the movements of people, cars and cows. Peripheries, such as the Ulaanbaatar ger district, are conceptually generative because they refer to both an edge and sit in the middle; being neither one thing nor another they recall Derrida's différance, a meaning deferred and experienced in opposition. However, rather than imposing a pre-existing concept on the complexities of this periphery, this paper instead builds an experimental theoretical lens through which to reflect on life in the ger district via an everyday feature of the Mongolian language "horshoo üg" (paired words). The momentary silence between paired terms that come together in opposition or complementarity resonates with the ger district -an area that is neither entirely urban nor rural- as both point to the potentialities of the between, potentialities that are larger than those that may be contained by a single (or central) point.

Panel P011
Peripheral Speculations in the City [Colleex network]