Dangerous Communications – University of Copenhagen

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Dangerous Communications. Enmity, Suspense and Integration in Postsocialist Northern Mongolia

PhD Thesis by Lars Højer, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, England, 2004.


The project is financed by the Danish Research Agency

Superviser: Professor, Dr. Caroline Humphrey, Dept. of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Summary

Based on fieldwork carried out in Northern Mongolia, the present thesis is concerned with particular cultural forms of social engagement in a postsocialist rural district. In particular, it addresses forms of attending to others where separation - rather than simply integration and connection - is maintained and the compelling actions of others avoided.

By attending to specific cultural idioms through which inter-human attention is fashioned - such as 'dangerous talk' (hel am) and Red Sect Buddhism - it is shown that separation and distance, and the reproduction of suspended relations, are not just brought about by a lack of social integration, but are actively propagated as a form of attention in itself, alongside specific hierarchical forms of integration based on socialism, Yellow Sect Buddhism and traditional etiquette. In line with this, it is argued that the disintegration of the socialist state has not simply left rural Mongolia in a state of natural disintegration, the basis of which is considered universally similar, survival-minded individuals; nor is it enough to claim that other forms of (functional) integration - for example generated by kinship networks - have simply taken over. The former perspective assumes that disintegration (and, by implication, integration) is everywhere the same - i.e. simply grounded in human nature - whereas the latter stance too easily conflates functional, aesthetic and ontological issues when dealing with questions of the integration of self and other.

The ethnographic concern with cultural forms which produce otherness from within, as it were, leads to a critical engagement with the notion of sociality. The thesis questions to what extent 'the relation' is analytically relevant when people are made to suspiciously anticipate otherness, and when concepts of 'group' and 'commonality' are problematic.