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Assembling Contexts

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The Making of Political-Economic Potentials in a Shamanic Workshop in Ulaanbaatara

image of Inner Asia

This paper attempts to rethink the relationship between the practice of shamanism and the political-economic ‘context’ it is held to emerge from in contemporary Mongolia. In the face of an extraordinary ‘revival’ in shamanism, anthropologists have sought explanations for the phenomenon that centre around a concern with how to locate it in relation to the social, economic and political structures alongside which it manifests. Authors tend to produce accounts that either reduce shamanism to an expression of more fundamental material realities, or explore the cosmo-ontological parameters of the practice itself, in turn masking its articulation with other processes in the social field. This point will be illustrated with reference to a novel ethnography of the making of the shamanic gown in Ulaanbaatar. Yet more than this, it will be suggested that a more sustained reflection upon the nature of the shamanic gown, and consideration of new information regarding the processes that contribute to its creation, might provide the means to theorise in a rather different fashion. The shamanic gown and the people and things mobilised in its emergence do not simply collect social and theoretical contexts, but rather flow outward. As such, while being both intimately reactive and irreducible to the adjacent realities, Mongolian shamanism also engages in the making of these very structures. Shamanism and the making of shamanic gowns do not simply emerge from, or deny, contexts; they assemble them.

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