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Motorcycles on the Steppe: Skill, Social Change, and New Technologies in Postsocialist Northern Mongolia

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In this paper, I explore the use of motorcycles among herding households in Mongolia, which are fast becoming ubiquitous features of everyday life. First, I outline the position of technology in academic debates and the tendency to envision technological change in teleological and revolutionary terms. Approached from a revised perspective of skilled practice, I argue against such accounts, emphasising the polydirectional ways in which people experience technological change. I present ethnographic material describing how herding households use motorcycles in the postsocialist era, including their impact on herding strategies, the everyday practices around the ger (yurt), and their connection to subsidiary technologies such as mobile phones. I show that technological change is not experienced as a transition from 'tradition' to 'modernity', as bringing about singular improvements, or as replacing pre-existing technologies in a unilinear way. Instead, they are experienced as affording improvements and limitations, generating new skills and deskillment, leading to variations between different kinds of household, and blurring the distinctions between the traditional and the modern, the socialist and the postsocialist, and the nomadic and the sedentary.
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Keywords: Mongolia; New technologies; herding; motorcycles; postsocialism; skills

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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  • Nomadic Peoples is an international journal published by the White Horse Press for the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Its primary concerns are the current circumstances of all nomadic peoples around the world and their prospects. Its readership includes all those interested in nomadic peoples, scholars, researchers, planners and project administrators.
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