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Accepted paper:

Fencing Off Uncertainty: Space and Security in Post-Socialist Ulaanbaatar

Author:

Björn Reichhardt (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper aims at addressing the material modalities of securitization by looking at symbolic and physical forms of protection and place-making through fence-building in times of socioeconomic uncertainty in marginalized residential areas of Mongolia's capital city Ulaanbaatar.

Paper long abstract:

This paper aims at addressing the material modalities of securitization by looking at symbolic and physical forms of protection and place-making through fence-building in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The in-migration of thousands of new residents from rural, pastoralist backgrounds running parallel to insufficient urban planning have led Ulaanbaatar to evolve into a metropolis shaped by multilayered socio-spatial division. Originally a nomadic, monastic settlement, the city's basic structures consisted of ger (Mongolian for yurt/home) districts - residential settlements that are now pushed to Ulaanbaatar's urban periphery and social margins. While these ger districts are borderlands that are often referred to as neither city nor countryside, they host half of the city's population. Perceptions about living in these areas are often as divided as neighborhoods are by their fences. Being excluded from the promises of urban life that once attracted them to Ulaanbaatar, many ger district residents now experience social disintegration and precarity. Others attempt to face off hardships and start small businesses on their fenced property. Either way, taking possession of private property through fencing off land developed as a major strategy to secure livelihoods. The khashaa (Mongolian for fence and residential plot), therefore, becomes a crucial instrument for navigating social fragmentation and infrastructural deficits. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted during subsequent visits from 2014 to 2017, I will discuss the entanglements between rural-urban migration, insufficient urban planning, legal ambiguities over land and socio-economic marginalization with special regard to fence-building as response to multilayered desires for security in uncertain livelihood conditions.

panel U04
Urban borderlands at the crossroads of anthropology and geography: spatiality, perceptions and social reproduction in a multiscalar perspective