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Hegemony and Culturedness: Elites after Socialism in Mongolia.

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Shagdar, Tuya 


This thesis asks: how did a tiny minority, the 'oligarchic' elite of Mongolia, manage to dominate the economic and political life of the nation for over three decades since the transition to liberal democracy in 1990? With Mongolian media reporting that 99.6% of shares listed on the Mongolian Stock Exchange are owned by around 5 per cent of the total shareholders, and that the ownership of Mongolian businesses is limited to just thirty families (Sneath 2018), it might appear that the rule by this tiny minority has become hegemonic. In recent years, however, the superrich have been targeted by a brand of populist politics. This thesis argues that the emergence, maintenance, and recent targeting of the superrich would not have been possible without Mongolia’s complex history of engagement with the idea of independent statehood. Central to the rise, but also to the fall of oligarchic elites is the issue of ‘national interest,’ the valorized notion of an independent state which paradoxically shapes the capitalist dispositions of the elites, while also being a source of their insecurity. In liberal democracies elite power often appear in public culture as something tolerable. In structural Marxist terms, the elite frequently feature as a well-articulated ruling class. The notion of a self-conscious ruling class makes for convincing explanations of relations of stark inequality and the accumulation of resources by a small minority (Althusser 1970: 90; Poulantzas 1969: 74). Such a concept renders the elite a monolithic and well-orchestrated grouping in a capitalist society. Anthropological studies have shown, however, that this can be a misleading approach to elite power, which is frequently fractured and fluid (Armytage 2020; Lotter 2004; 2012; Simandjuntak 2012; Salman and Sologuren 2011; Sánchez 2016; Lentz 2000; Antonyan 2015; Derlugian 2005). A closer look at Mongolia's superrich, with many top careers ending in imprisonment, provides an image of a politically and economically dominant group that is anything but monolithic.
The models of elite power most widely used in social sciences have tended to describe relatively stable milieus where knowledge and power are seen as working together to support their status quo (Marcus 1983: 19). For Foucault, domination is primarily discursive whereby power is exercied through production of knowledge and regimes of truth. In Mongolia, public knowledge about the ruling elite is by no means a uniform ‘regime of truth’ in which their power and wealth appear commonsensical. Much public knowledge of elites is profoundly negative. Oligarchy (oligarkhi) and the phrase “billionaires borne of the state” (töröös törsön terbumtan) have become well-worn Mongolian terms for describing the social order. Many of the richest individuals in the country are indeed politicians but their close affinity to the state also means that such privilege is precarious. By engaging with Gramsci’s concept of hegemony I trace the complicated factionalism among elites within the wider cultural setting of the contested ‘regimes of truth’ of Mongolian public culture.





Sneath, Tuya


elites, hegemony, oligarchy, populism, postsocialism


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge