Repository logo

Ambiguous Relations: Domestic Violence, Shamanism and Intimacy in Ulaanbaatar

Accepted version

Change log


Ellis, Joe 


This paper examines the relationship between women in the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar who visit and become shamans and violence they experience. It shows that in many cases women’s engagement with shamanism arises in the context of physical violence from their husband or male kin. Yet this paper also resists functionalist explanations that render violence as the sole cause of shamanic practice. Such an account risks both dated theoretical reductionism and would speak in direct contradiction to the very claims and political tactics of women who become shamans. This paper shows that shamanic ritual is indeed a moral arena within which attributions of responsibility for violence are made. However, rather that providing a functional palliation of trauma the ambiguity of the ritual articulates with the contradictions of intimate relations. Critically, women’s capacity to challenge violence is possible through maintaining and harnessing this shroud of ambiguity rather than removing it. This paper therefore attempts to write with this ambiguity instead of attempting to resolve it. The final argument is that a refusal of theoretical resolution can be a vehicle to a more successful conceptualisation of the social and gendered political empowerment, rather than a failure.



Journal Title

Current Anthropology

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


University of Chicago Press

Publisher DOI

Publisher URL