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Department of Social Anthropology



I specialise in the anthropology of Inner Asia, particularly Mongolia, focusing on political economy and ecology, representations of historical and cultural heritage, land use and the environment, and post-socialist transformation.  I am the Director for the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit (MIASU).


I am currently PI of two research projects: (a) the AHRC-funded Mongolian Cosmopolitical Heritage: Tracing Divergent Healing Practices Across the Mongolian-Chinese Border project, with Elizabeth Turk and Uranchimeg Ujeed. This project aims to develop a comparative analysis of how healing practices – biomedical, ‘traditional’, and others, are mobilized to treat or prevent the spread of disease, particularly COVID-19, in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia; (b) the ESRC-funded Resource Frontiers: Managing Water on a Trans-Border Asian River, with Joseph Bristley and Sayana Namsaraeva. This project sets out to explore the politics of managing, and planning the management of, trans-border rivers and water resource, particularly the river Selenga, which flows from northern Mongolia into Russia’s Lake Baikal.  I am developing research plans for a study of the historical emergence and contemporary effects of Western Mongolian identity categories, including their historical construction, distinctive political discourse, and artistic expression. I have a longstanding interested in revisionist readings of classical anthropological texts in the light of post-Weberian theories of power, and the ways in which the legacy of evolutionist thought directed the discipline away from examining aristocracy as a comparative frame for social analysis.

Research interests

Inner and Central Asia; representations of past and present ‘nomadic’ steppe society; cosmopolitical practices in Inner Asia; 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.



Sole-authored monographs

2018    Mongolia Remade: Post-socialist National Culture, Political Economy, and Cosmopolitics, Amsterdam University Press (227 pages).

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).


Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

2018    ‘Afterword: Mongolian-made capitalism’, Central Asian Survey, 37(3): 475-483.

2018    ‘Commonwealth, inalienable possessions, and the res publica: The anthropology of aristocratic order and the landed estate’, History and Anthropology, 29(3): 324-341.

2014    ‘Nationalising civilisational resources: sacred mountains and cosmopolitical ritual in Mongolia,’ Asian Ethnicity, 15 (4): 458-472.

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.

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

2009    ‘Tribe, Ethnos, Nation: Rethinking Evolutionist Social Theory and Representations of Nomadic Inner Asia,’ Forum AI, Ab Imperio, 2009:4, 80-109.

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.

2006     ‘Transacting and Enacting: Corruption, obligation and the use of monies in Mongolia’ Ethnos 71(1) 89-112.

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 5(1): 39-52.

2003    ‘Beyond the Willow Palisade: Manchuria and the History of China’s Inner Asian Frontier,’ Asian Affairs, 34(1): 3-11.

2002    ‘Reciprocity and Notions of Corruption in Contemporary Mongolia’, Mongolian Studies 15: 85-99.

2001     ‘Notions of rights over land and the history of Mongolian pastoralism,’ Inner Asia, 3(1): 41-59.

2000     Environmental research in Cambridge. A study of sustainable development in pastoral Inner Asia: The ECCIA project, Journal of Tokyo University of Information Sciences, 4(1): 33-45.

1999     ‘Some Notes on a Visit to a Mongolian Village in Yünnan, China,’ Inner Asia, 1(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    ‘Power centres and elite cultures: Notes towards a dualistic cultural model of Mongolian history’ in Inner Asia, Vol.1 No.1: 101-107.

1996    ‘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), January 1996, 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.

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


Book Chapters

2018    ‘The Savage Noble: Alterity and Aristocracy in Anthropology’, in Liana Chua and Nayanika Mathur (eds), Who Are ‘We’? Reimagining Alterity and Affinity in Anthropology. Berghahn, New York, pp. 60-92.

2018    ‘From Transactionalism to Practice Theory’ in Matei Candea (ed)  Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory, London: Routledge, pp. 91-107.

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.

2012    ‘Constructing Socialist and Post-Socialist Identities in Mongolia’ in Bruce Knauft and Richard Taupier (eds) Mongolians After Socialism: Politics, Economy, Religion. Admon Press: Ulaanbaatar, pp. 147-164.

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.

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    (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, pp. 334-356.

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, pp.143-182.

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    ‘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) Mongolians from Country to City: Floating Boundaries, Pastoralism and City Life in the Mongol Lands, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, pp. 140-161.

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.

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    ‘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    ‘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. 223-236.

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.

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.


Teaching and Supervisions