Manduhai Buyandelger

Manduhai Buyandelger
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Room E53-335-S


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.

Selected Publications


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


  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.

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.

Slavery and Human Trafficking in the 21st Century

Explores recent scholarly accounts, advocacy, media and other representations of human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and sexual slavery. Ethnographic and fictional readings along with media analysis help to develop a contextualized and comparative understanding of the phenomena in both past and present contexts. Examines the wide range of factors and agents that enable these practices, such as technology, cultural practices, social and economic conditions, and the role of governments and international organizations. Discusses the analytical, moral and methodological questions of researching, writing, and representing trafficking and slavery.

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.


2015 Longlists 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