Seminar – 12 February – Joe Ellis

February 4th, 2019 by


Tuesday 12 February 2019

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Joe Ellis

MIASU, University of Cambridge

The Conflict in Exemplars: Mythic-Histories, ‘Ethnicities’ and Affines in Khovd Aimag, Mongolia

This paper seeks to explore Mongolian moral life by elucidating the historical exemplars that people interpret and mobilise in understandings of ‘ethnic’ difference. In drawing out the manner in which Mongolians conceptualise differences between the large number of ethnic groups (yastan) present in Khovd province, this paper will enter into dialogue with developments within the anthropological theorisation of ethnicity and identity. Anthropological work in Mongolia and elsewhere has rightly demonstrated how self-identifications and ascriptions of ethnic difference occur within fields of power between collectives and the state. In response, I drew attention to claims of difference made by my interlocutors, not through the assumption of essentialised ethnicities, but by the analysis of the moral claims produced by the varied manners in which people emplot themselves within history. In attending to moral, exemplary stories as forms of historicity, I move away from techniques of contextualisation whereby claims of ethnic difference are rendered as the outcome of known political-economic and historical contexts, and instead draw attention to the moral horizons of difference posited by my interlocutors. Explanations as to the problematic conduct of various kinds of people arise as a mythical-historical form of moral discourse that accounts for and partly produces what might be called ethnic difference in Mongolia. Yet far from being the simple deployment of moralised historical content for understanding and navigating conflict in the present, I suggested that the particular, exemplary logic of these historical resources produces diverging interpretations and conflict in their own terms. The exemplars I present are not univocal, and as such, not only allow people to deploy them in the service of competing aims, but demand such disagreement through their own, multivalent constitution.

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