Emerging Subjects project trip to the Oyu Tolgoi copper/gold mine.  Photo by Bumochir Dulam, 2016.
Co-presenting with Dr. Rebekah Plueckhahn on the "Diverse Economies of Mega Projects: An Anthropological Perspective" at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development/Mongolia Development Forum.  Photo by Ganzorig Ulaankhuu, 2017. 

Emerging Subjects Project
UCL, Department of Anthropology

"In the last few years Mongolia has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world with soaring GDP growth and foreign investment due to the country’s vast mineral reserves. However, the decline of the global commodity super-cycle, coupled with the slowdown of the Chinese economy, has signalled a dramatic passing of this era. Life in Mongolia is now increasingly characterised by a continuous state of volatility or flux. What were once thought to be givens have been suspended, and certain visions of the future stalled. People talk of an impending ‘crisis', but what format this crisis will take, or what beginning or end it may have is essentially unknown. The idea of crisis manifest as a low hum in the imagination of individuals as they go about making their own worlds in this new terrain.

This 5-year ERC- funded project is composed of ten researchers exploring the emerging subjects of this new era of global economic flux. These include how people negotiate resources in shifting landscapes, access to infrastructure and bureaucracy; emergent relations between state, society, and mining companies; the access and use of loans and investments; the politics of debt and crisis; and national and individual trading strategies.  In doing so we reveal how current economic transformations come to shape and are being shaped by people at different registers and scales." (Project website here).

In addition to my ethnographic research and writing as part of this project, I administer the Emerging Subjects Blog and co-organized with Dr. Rebecca Empson the June 2018 workshop at UCL, "Rethinking Usufruct in the Global Economy: States, Strategies, and Ethics", which brought together anthropologists, geographers, philosophers, legal scholars, and artists to explore emerging forms of temporary possession and ownership.

Artist, Deborah Tchoudjinoff, unpacking ethnographic fieldwork box consisting of materials collected from my research.  Photo by Deborah Tchoudjinoff, 2017.
Deborah's "Beneath the Surface II" showcase at London's Space Studies.  Photo by Deborah Tchoudjinoff, 2017.

Tavan Tolgoi ("Five Heads")
Art-Anthropology Exchange

"The Tavan Tolgoi exchange and exhibition brings together the work of five anthropologists and five artists researching and responding to the dramatic rise and fall of Mongolia’s economy, exposed to the wider global commodity super-cycle, and increasingly dependent on China. The title refers to Mongolia’s largest coal mine, composed of five coal-rich mounds or ‘heads’ that lend the mine its name.  The exhibition maps an exchange of materials and perspectives extracted and mobilised between the geosphere and human culture, and between anthropology and art in Mongolia and London." (More details here).

As part of this exchange, I am working closely with the London-based artist/designer, Deborah Tchoudjinoff.  Deborah is applying her ongoing experiments with augmented reality technology to my research into extractive atmospheres and the rhythms of boom and bust in Mongolia.  She recently showcased Beneath the Surface II at Space Studios in London.  

Resting after returning home from a 2-week shift working underground at the Oyu Tolgoi mine. 
Photo by Chiara Goia, 2016.
Crossing the Bulgan River during a four-day, 250 kilometer migration to summer pastures in the Altai Mountains, 2006.

Documentary Photography and Film Projects

A number of documentary photographers and filmmakers have joined me in aspects of my research in Mongolia.  As part of the Emerging Subjects project, I traveled to my fieldsite in the Gobi desert with the Milan-based photographer, Chiara Goia.  In 2006, as part of a collaboration between US filmmakers and the Chinggis Khaan University, I helped lead a documentary film project about four Torguud families traveling to their summer pastures in western Mongolia.    

S. Amarzaya and me conducting fieldwork on the Khushuut Coal Road in Khovd, 2016.

Research Collaborations

Collaboration and knowledge exchanges with other researchers, students, independent scholars, and non-academics is a central part of my work.  The following individuals have played a vital role in various research activities: 

S. Amarzaya - 11th grade student at Sant High School, Ulaanbaatar
D. Naranbileg - Graduate of Gazarchin University, Ulaanbaatar
Setsen Altan-Ochir - Independent Scholar, Graduate of Cornell College
U. Erdenebayar - Nurse at Bulgan District Hospital, Khovd Province
Nomindari Shagdarsuren - Independent Scholar, Graduate of University of Rennes 2/Chinggis Khaan University
Enerelt Enkhbold - Independent Scholar, Graduate of the National University of Mongolia/University of Leeds
Tuya Shagdar - Graduate student, University of Cambridge
Munkh-erdene Gantulga - Lecturer, Mongolian University of Science & Technology
Dr. Neeti Neeti - Assistant Professor, Teri University, New Delhi
Dr. Kh. Lhagvasuren - Archaeologist and President of the Chinggis Khaan University

Copyright Lauren Bonilla 2018.