Manduhai Buyandelger | People

Manduhai Buyandelger

Manduhai Buyandelger

Professor of Anthropology

Room E53-335S




Manduhai Buyandelger received her BA and MA in Literature and Linguistics from the National University of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar and her Ph.D. from Harvard University. Prior to coming to MIT was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Society of Fellows. Her first book Tragic Spirits: Shamanism, Gender, and Memory in Contemporary Mongolia (University of Chicago Press, 2013) won a 2014 Francis L.K. Hsu book prize from the Society of East Asian Anthropology and was shortlisted as one of the top five social science books on Asia by the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) in 2015. The book tells a story of the collapse of the socialist state and the responses of marginalized rural nomads to devastating changes through the revival of their previously suppressed shamanic practices. Her second book, A Thousand Steps to the Parliament: Constructing Electable Women in Mongolia (Forthcoming in September 2022 with the UCP), examines women candidates’ competition for parliamentary seats and their transformation into electable selves to persevere in the campaigns that have become defining forces of Mongolia’s today.  

For her forthcoming projects, Manduhai Buyandelger is developing an Anthro-Engineering projects with MIT Nuclear Engineering to design and implement carbon-free heating system in Mongolia, researching medical socialities and their transformations during COVID-19 pandemic in Mongolia, and Immersive Technologies such as the VR.

Manduhai Buyandelger’s essays appeared in American Ethnologist, Journal of Royal Anthropological Association, Inner Asia, and Annual Review of Anthropology.


My research examines how people rebuild their lives, selves, and social worlds in the wake of dramatic political transformation. Most of my work has been in Mongolia, where the collapse of state socialism in 1990 and the subsequent shift to democracy and neoliberal capitalism opened new economic opportunities while also challenging citizens’ sensibilities about what constitutes a viable and meaningful existence. My first book explores how a nomadic ethnic group, in its attempt to survive life-threatening hardships in the aftermath of state collapse, has been reconstituting its previously suppressed religious practices. My second book examines the reconstruction of the new neoliberal state through parliamentary elections and their attendant political campaigns, taking a close eye to how women have struggled to gain political office. In both projects, I trace shifts in the social roles and subjective experiences of women and men under postsocialism, especially examining how people create new senses of self and value. I intervene in anthropological discussions on religion, state, subjectivities, and gender from a post-socialist perspective.

In my forthcoming research I bridge the study of spiritual and technological, and experiential and speculative by examining virtual and other realities.

Publications|Selected Publications


A Thousand Steps to the Parliament: Constructing Electable Women in Mongolia (Forthcoming in September 2022 with the UCP)

Tragic Spirits: Shamanism, Gender, and Memory in Contemporary Mongolia (University of Chicago Press, 2013)


2018 Asocial memories, 'poisonous knowledge', and haunting in Mongolia. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 25, 66-82. 
  Review of Not Quite Shamans: Spirit Worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia, by Morten Axel Pedersen. American Anthropologist (submitted)
2009 Mongolian Shamanism: The Mosaic of Performed Memory In Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Fitzhugh and all eds., Smithsonian Institution
2008 Post-Post-Transition Theories: Walking on Multiple Paths. Annual Review of Anthropology. 37:235-50. 2007
2007 Dealing with uncertainty: Shamans, marginal capitalism, and the remaking of history in postsocialist Mongolia. In American Ethnologist Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 127-147


How Culture Works

Introduces diverse meanings and uses of the concept of culture with historical and contemporary examples from scholarship and popular media around the globe. Includes first-hand observations, synthesized histories and ethnographies, quantitative representations, and visual and fictionalized accounts of human experiences. Students conduct empirical research on cultural differences through the systematic observation of human interaction, employ methods of interpretative analysis, and practice convincing others of the accuracy of their findings.

Memory, Culture, and Forgetting

Introduces scholarly debates about the sociocultural practices through which individuals and societies create, sustain, recall, and erase memories. Emphasis is given to the history of knowledge, construction of memory, the role of authorities in shaping memory, and how societies decide on whose versions of memory are more "truthful" and "real." Other topics include how memory works in the human brain, memory and trauma, amnesia, memory practices in the sciences, false memory, sites of memory, and the commodification of memory. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments.

Cultures of East Asia

Explores diverse cultures, everyday experiences, and political economies in East Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Korea, and Singapore, with additional examples from the surrounding regions. Examines the different ways people in these regions experience and understand globalization, as well as the changing structures of kinship and family, work and organizational culture, media, consumption, and the role of government. Readings cover ethnographic studies of the world's largest seafood market in Tokyo, the effect of the Asian financial crisis on South Korea, the role of science in formulating China's one child policy and its economic and social implications, and the state and ethnic diversity in Singapore.

21A.141J / WGS.274J
Images of Asian Women: Dragon Ladies and Lotus Blossoms

Explores some of the forces and mechanisms through which stereotypes are built and perpetuated. In particular, examines stereotypes associated with Asian women in colonial, nationalist, state-authoritarian, and global/diasporic narratives about gender and power. Students read ethnography, fiction, and history, and view films to examine the politics and circumstances that create and perpetuate the representation of Asian women as dragon ladies, lotus blossoms, despotic tyrants, desexualized servants, and docile subordinates. Students are introduced to debates about Orientalism, gender, and power.

Virtual and Other Realities

Explores virtual worlds created in cyberspace, non-internet ritual spaces, science laboratories, tech companies, and artistic performances from an anthropological perspective. Students acquire analytical tools for thinking about immersive experiences of being someone else, and the socio-economic, political, and technological contexts behind creating specific types of parallel worlds. Examines and contextualizes the ways in which scientists, designers, shamans, ritual specialists, and corporations imagine, respond to, and steer people's desires and needs. Considers debates on the future of imagination, sensory experiences, and creativity in technology. Limited to 20. This class is designed as a seminar class for graduate and advanced undergraduate students.


2015 Shortlists ICAS Book Prize 2015, International Convention of Asia Scholars, for Tragic Spirits
2014 Hsu Book Prize, Society for East Asian Anthropology, for Tragic Spirits
2013 James A. and Ruth Levitan Prize in the Humanities, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
2012 MIT SHASS Research Fund
2008 National Science Foundation (Gender and Technologies of Election in Mongolia)
2008 Wenner-Gren Foundation Post-doctoral Grant



The Oral History of Twentieth Century Mongolia website

The surprising story of Mongolian shamanism

Anthropologist Manduhai Buyandelger wins the 2013 Levitan Prize in the Humanities

Steppe by steppe

Electionization and Postsocialist Subjectivity

Electionization and Postsocialist Subjectivity