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Professor David Sneath

Professor David Sneath


Director Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit (MIASU)

MRes and PhD Pre-Field Tutor for Department of Social Anthropology

Fellow, Corpus Christi

Office hours: Friday 12-1pm

David Sneath is accepting applications for PhD students.

Research Interests

Inner and central Asia; representations of past and present 'nomadic' steppe society; aristocracy and the state; mobile pastoralism; land use and the environment; decollectivisation and post-socialist social transformations; political culture and economic institutions in Inner Asia; the anthropology of development.

My most recent research explores the representations of steppe societies in social and historical studies, and the political economy and ecology of Mongolia and the Inner Asia. I am also working on a text concerned with revisionist readings of classical anthropological texts in the light of post-Weberian theories of power, with a particular interest in the ways in which the legacy of evolutionist thought directed the discipline away from examining aristocracy as a comparative frame for social analysis.  I am also involved in a project titled ‘Pathways to understanding the changing climate: time and place in cultural learning about the environment,’ collaborating with educationalists and anthropologists working in a range of locations including Inner Asia and the UK to try and develop a new comparative approach to understanding perceptions of environmental change.

Key Publications


Sole-authored monographs

2007   The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, and Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia, Columbia University Press, New York (273 pages).

2000    Changing Inner Mongolia: Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State, Oxford University Press (304 pages).

Dual authored monographs

2006    Nüüdellekhüi Yoson Etseslekh üü? Övör Aziin niigem, tör khüreelekh orchin, (The End of Nomadism? Inner Asian society, state and environment), with Caroline Humphrey, Mongolian translation of the 1999 publication below. Interpress, Ulaanbaatar (402 pages).

1999    The End of Nomadism?  Society, State and the Environment in Inner Asia, with Caroline Humphrey, Central Asia Book Series, Duke University Press (355 pages). [Chapters 4, & 6 by D. Sneath; chapters 3 & 5 by C. Humphrey, chapters 1, 2, 7 & 8 jointly authored.]

Edited volumes

2010    (with Christopher Kaplonski) The History of Mongolia:
            Volume 1: The Pre-Chinggisid Era. Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire (370 pages)
            Volume 2: Yuan and Late Medieval Period (219 pages).
            Volume 3: The Qing Period. Twentieth-Century Mongolia (457 pages). Global Oriental, Folkestone.

2006    Imperial Statecraft: Political forms and techniques of governance in Inner Asia 6th – 20th centuries, Western Washington University, Bellingham (377 pages).

2006    States of Mind: Power, place and the subject in Inner Asia, Western Washington University, Bellingham (258 pages).

2001    Dotugadu Aziya-jin Soyol kiged Orchin Axui (Inner Asia’s Culture and Environment, with C. Humphrey, translation of 1996 publication below), Inner Mongolian Peoples Press, Hohhot, China (480 pages).

1996    Culture and Environment in Inner Asia: Volume I, The Pastoral Economy and Environment, with C. Humphrey, Cambridge, White Horse Press (237 pages).

1996    Culture and Environment in Inner Asia: Volume II, Society and Culture, with C. Humphrey, Cambridge, White Horse Press (230 pages).


2014    ‘Nationalising civilisational resources: sacred mountains and cosmopolitical ritual in Mongolia,’ Asian Ethnicity, 15, 4. Published online: 11 Sep 2014.

2013    ‘Ayimag, uymaq and baylik: Re-examining Notions of the Nomadic Tribe and State’ in Jürgen Paul (eds) Nomad Aristocrats in a World of Empire. Wiesbaden, Steiner Verlag pp.161-186. ISBN 978-3-89500-975-4

2013    Introduction. 'Seeing' Environmental Process in Time: Questions of Evidence and Agency Cambridge Anthropology Volume 31, Number 1, pp. 40-50.  ‘Anthropology of Climate Change’ Special Section (ed.) Cambridge Anthropology Volume 31, Number 1, pp. 40-155.

2012    ‘Sovereignty and Administrative Reform in Autonomous Mongolia,’ Sampildondovyn Chuluun (ed) Mongolian Sovereignty and the Mongols (Mongolyn Tusgaar Togtnol Ba Mongolchuud), Ulaanbaatar: Mongolian Academy of Science Mönhiin Üseg, pp.59-66.

2012    ‘The ‘age of the market’ and the regime of debt: the role of credit in the transformation of pastoral Mongolia,’ Social Anthropology/ Anthropologie Sociale 20(4): 458-473.

2011    ‘Mapping and the Headless State: Rethinking National Populist Concepts of Mongolia,’ in Paula Sabloff (ed), Mapping Mongolia: Situating Mongolia in the World from Geologic Time to the Present, University of Pennsylvania Press (pp. 34-59).

2010    ‘Political Mobilization and the Construction of Collective Identity in Mongolia’ Central Asia Survey, 29(3): 251-267.

2010    (with A. Khurelbaatar) ‘Reconstructing the memory of an Inner Mongolian national hero: The case of Injanashi and his family monastery’ in Isabelle Charleux, Grégory Delaplace, Roberte Hamayon, and Scott Pearce (eds.) Representing Power in Modern Inner Asia: Conventions, Alternatives and Oppositions, Western Washington University, Bellingham.

2009    ‘Tribe, Ethnos, Nation: Rethinking Evolutionist Social Theory and Representations of Nomadic Inner Asia,’ Forum AI, Ab Imperio, 2010:4, 80-110.

2009    ‘A Response to Critics,’ Ab Imperio, 2010:4, 164-175.

2009    ‘Masters of the Steppe: Peoples of Mongolia’ in William Fitzhugh, Morris Rossabi and William Honeychurch (eds), Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire, University of Washington Press, (pp.57-65).

2009    ‘Reading the Signs by Lenin’s Light: Development, Divination and Metonymic Fields in Mongolia’, Ethnos 74:1, 72-90.

2009    (with Martin Holbraad and Morten A. Pedersen), ‘Technologies of the Imagination: An Introduction’, Ethnos 74:1, 5-30.

2009    ‘The Headless State in Inner Asia: Reconsidering Kinship Society and the Discourse of Tribalism’, in Knut Rio and Olaf Smedal (eds) Hierarchy: Persistence and Transformation in Social Formations, Berghahn, New York.

2008    ‘Mobile Pastoralism and Sociotechnical Systems: Decollectivisation and rural reform in Mongolia’ in J. Janzen and B. Enkhtuvshin (eds), Proceedings of the International Conference: Present State and Perspectives of Nomadism in a Globalizing World, Ulaanbaatar, Admon.

2008    ‘Competing factions and elite power: Political conflict in Inner Mongolia’, in F. Pirie and T. Huber (eds) Conflict and Social Order in Tibet and Inner Asia, Brill, Leiden, pp. 85-112.

2007    ‘The decentralised state: nomads, complexity and sociotechnical systems in Inner Asia’ in S. Kohring and S. Wynne-Jones (eds) Socialising Complexity: Structure, Interaction and Power in Archaeological Discourse, Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp. 228-244.

2007    ‘Ritual Idioms and Spatial Orders: Comparing the rites for Mongolian and Tibetan ‘local deities’ in U. Bulag and H. Diemberger (eds) The Mongol-Tibet Interface: Opening new research terrains in Inner Asia, Brill, Leiden, pp. 135-158.

2006    ‘Mongol ulsyn tör – 800 (Eight hundred years of Mongolian Statehood)’ Tüükh (V), Erdem Shinjilgeenii Bichig, (History 5, Research Documents) No. 262(33), School of Social Sciences, Mongolian National University, pp. 18-27.

2006    ‘Transacting and Enacting: Corruption, obligation and the use of monies in MongoliaEthnos 71:1, 89-112.

2006    ‘Introduction. Imperial Statecraft: Arts of Power on the Steppe’, in Sneath, D, (ed) Imperial Statecraft: Political forms and techniques of governance in Inner Asia 6th – 20th centuries, (ed) Western Washington University, Bellingham, pp. 1-22.

2006    ‘Ordering Subjects: Mongolian Civil and Military Administration’, (with J. Boldbaatar), in Sneath, D, (ed) Imperial Statecraft: Political forms and techniques of governance in Inner Asia 6th – 20th centuries, (ed) Western Washington University, Bellingham, pp. 293-314.

2006    ‘Introduction. Institutions, Idioms and Technologies of Power in Inner Asia’ in D. Sneath (ed) States of Mind: Power, place and the subject in Inner Asia, (ed) Western Washington University, Bellingham, pp. 1-14.

2005    ‘The Rural and the Urban in Pastoral Mongolia’ in O. Bruun and L. Narangoa (eds) Mongols from Country to City: Floating Boundaries, Pastoralism and City Life in the Mongol Lands, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, pp. 140-161.

2004    ‘International Symposium on Inner Asian Statecraft and Technologies of Governance’ a review article, Inner Asia Vol.6, No. 2, 239-249.

2004    ‘Shanghaied by the Bureaucracy: Bribery and Post-Soviet Officialdom in Russia and Mongolia’ (with Caroline Humphrey), in Pardo, I (ed) Between Morality and the Law: Corruption, Anthropology and Comparative Society, Ashgate, Aldershot UK & Burlington USA, pp. 85-99.

2004    Proprietary Regimes and Sociotechnical Systems: Rights Over Land in Mongolia’s ‘Age of the Market’ in Verdery, K., and Humphrey C., (eds) Property in Question: value transformation in the global economy, Berg, Oxford, New York, pp 161-182.

2003    ‘Landuse, the Environment and Development in Post-socialist Mongolia’, Oxford Development Studies, 31, 4, pp.441-459.

2003    ‘Lost in the Post: Technologies of the Imagination, and the Soviet Legacy in Post-Socialist Mongolia’, Inner Asia Vol. 5, No. 1, 39-52.

2003    ‘Beyond the Willow Palisade: Manchuria and the History of China’s Inner Asian Frontier’, Asian Affairs, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, 3-11.

2002    ‘Reciprocity and Notions of Corruption in Contemporary Mongolia’, Mongolian Studies XXV (2002) 85-99.

2002    ‘Custody and Property: Land, indigenous understanding, and the conceptual basis of development policy in pastoral Mongolia’, in C. Humphrey and R. Mandel (eds) Markets and Moralities: Ethnographies of Postsocialism, Routledge, pp. 191 -210.

2002    ‘Producer Groups and the Decollectivisation of the Mongolian Pastoral Economy’ in Heyer, J., Thorp, J. and Stewart, F., Group Behaviour and Development, Oxford University Press, pp. 161-184.

2002    ‘Pastoral adaption and subsistence in Mongolia’s ‘Age of the Market’’ in P. Masina (ed) Rethinking Development in East Asia: from Illusory Miracle to Economic Crisis, Curzon Press, pp. 297-318.

2001     ‘Notions of rights over land and the history of Mongolian pastoralism’, Inner Asia, Vol. 3, No.1, 41-59.

2001     ‘Prostranstvyennaya mobil’nost’ i jivotnovodstvo vo Vnyutryennyei Azii,’ (spatial mobility and Inner Asian pastoralism), A. Tulokhonov and K. Humphrey (eds) Khozyaistvo, Kul’tura i Okrujayoshaya Sryeda v Raionakh Vnutryennyei Azii, Novosibirsk, Russian Academy of Sciences Publishing House, pp.  61-82.

2000    Environmental research in Cambridge. A study of sustainable development in pastoral Inner Asia: The ECCIA project, Journal of Tokyo University of Information Sciences, Vol.4 No.1, 33-45.

2000    ‘Sustaining the Steppe: The future of Mongolia’s grasslands’ in World Resources Institute, 2000, World Resources 1999-2000, Oxford University Press, pp. 212-224.

1999     ‘Mobility, technology and decollectivisation of pastoralism in Mongolia’, in S. Kotkin and B. Elleman (eds) Mongolia in the Twentieth Century: Landlocked Cosmopolitan, Armonk, M.E. Sharpe Inc., pp.

1999     ‘Some Notes on a Visit to a Mongolian Village in  Yünnan, China’, Inner Asia, Vol. 1, No. 1,  121-130.

1998     ‘State policy and pasture degradation in Inner Asia’, Science, Vol. 281, No. 5380, 21, 1147-1148.

1997     ‘Continuities and Change in the administration of the Mongolian Steppe: Implications for Land-Use’ Inner Asia,  Vol. 2 No.1, 1-15.

1996     ‘Combining Ecological and Social Studies in the Comparative Study of Pastoralism in Inner Asia’. in Koptyug V.A. and Uppenbrink, M. (eds) Sustainable Development of the Baikal Region, Springer, Heidelberg, pp. 265-284.

1996     ‘Power centres and elite cultures: Notes towards a dualistic cultural model of Mongolian history’ in Inner Asia, Vol. 1 No.1, 101-107.

1995     ‘Pastoralism and institutional change in Inner Asia: comparative perspectives from the findings of the M.E.C.C.I.A. research project’, by C. Humphrey and D. Sneath, Pastoral Development Network, 39 (b), December 1995, pp. 1-20.

1994     ‘The Impact of the Cultural Revolution in China on the Mongolians of Inner Mongolia’, Modern Asian Studies, 28, 2, 409-430.

1993     ‘Social relations, networks and social organisation in Post-Socialist Rural Mongolia’, Nomadic Peoples No. 33, 193-207.

1993     ‘Oboo worship in Inner Mongolia: Cultural Meaning and Social Practice’, in Bethlenfalvy, J., Birtalan, A., Sarközi, A., Vinkovics, J., (eds) Altaic Religious Beliefs and Practices, Proceedings of the 33rd meeting of P.I.A.C. June 24 – 29, Budapest, 1990, pp. 309-318.

1990     ‘Oboo Worship and Social Dynamics Among the Barga of Inner MongoliaJournal of the Anglo-Mongolian Society (13:1), 56-65.   

1989     ‘Life in an Ethnic Epicentre’ Geographical Magazine,  September 1989.

Book reviews and other published writings

2008    ‘Our Great Qing: The Mongols, Buddhism, and the State in Late Imperial China by Johan Elverskog,’ Journal of Asia Studies, Vol. 67:03, 1086-1087.

2007    ‘Precious Steppe: Mongolian Nomadic Pastoralists in Pursuit of the Market. By Ole Bruun.’ Book review Pacific Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 1, 99-100.

2006    ‘Editorial Introduction,’ Inner Asia, Vol 8 No. 1, 1-4.

2003    ‘Sechin Jagchid. The Last Mongol Prince: The Life and Times of Demchugdongrob, 1902-1966’ – book review Central Eurasian Studies Review, Vol 2 (2), 24-25.

2003    ‘Beyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia, by Dee M. Williams’ – book review Journal of Asia Studies, Vol. 62:2, 608-610.

2001     ‘Introduction’ Going Home: Continuity and Change in Modern Mongolia, Barbara Hind (publisher), Phoenix Colour plc, Leicester, pp. 1-6.

2001     ‘Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia,’ by U.E. Bulag – book review, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 24 No. 2, 332-334.

1998     ‘The Herders of the National Park,’ and ‘The peoples of Hövsgöl,’ in Harper, M. (ed) Lake Hövsgöl National Park: a visitor’s guide, Discoveryinitiative Publications in collaboration with UNDP Biodiversity Project, Ulaanbaatar, pp. 20-23.

1996     ‘Introduction’ to the section on Mongolia for the MacMillan Dictionary of Art, and subsections on:- ‘Patronage’, ‘Lamaism’, ‘Trade’, ‘Arms & Armour’.

1992    Contributor to Ronzoni, G. M., Majanoi, M., Gastaldo, S., (eds) Mongolia Erizzo Editrice,

1991     ‘The Kazaks of China’ by L. Benson & I. Svanberg (eds) – a book review, Ethnos (54:3-4).

1990    ‘Dictionary of Race and Ethnic Relations’ E. Ellis Cashmore with Michael Banton et al- a book review, Cambridge Anthropology (14.1), 95-96.

1986    Caribbean Heritage with Eric Pemberton, (Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Services Publications).