Manduhai Buyandelger

Manduhai
Buyandelger
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Room E53-335-S
617-324-5510

Biography

Manduhai Buyandelger received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and 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. She is at work on her second book, tentatively titled A Thousand Steps to the Parliament: Women Running for Election in Postsocialist Neoliberalizing Mongolia. She focuses on the ways in which democratic elections and neoliberal policies influence the co-constitution of gender and politics, and the ways in which Mongolian case makes legible some of the taken-for-granted and normalized aspects of democratization in more established democracies elsewhere.

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

Research

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.

Selected Publications

Books

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

Articles

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

Teaching

21A.529
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.

21A.01
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.

21A.140J/21F.047J
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.104
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.

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.

Awards

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