Category Archives: Articles

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2018 — Les fantômes sont des choses qui arrivent

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People gathered in front of a “haunted house” in London (Bethnal Green) to witness the manifestation of a ghost (1938). Society for Psychical Research Archives. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

Les fantômes sont des choses qui arrivent. Surgissement des morts et apparitions spectrales

Published in Terrain 69 (2018), pp. 5–23. Special issue “Fantômes”

Summary: Que se passe‐t‐il lorsque les morts apparaissent, lorsque les fantômes se manifestent ? Par‐delà la diversité des contextes, des époques et des approches adoptées, il s’agit ici d’envisager les fantômes non seulement comme des choses auxquelles on croit (ou non), mais aussi et surtout comme des choses qui arrivent, comme desévénements. Par les institutions qu’ils mettent en branle, les doutes qu’ils occasionnent ou les solutions auxquelles ils donnent lieu, ces événements activent les solidarités, ravivent les conflits et tracent le contour des collectifs ; en un mot, ils contraignent les vivants à recomposer leur monde. Documenter une apparition invite ainsi non seulement à se demander ce qui apparaît – à décrire la forme que peuvent prendre les fantômes à travers le monde – mais aussi ce que les apparitions font apparaître – ce qu’un fantôme rend visible dans l’événement de son surgissement.

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2012 — Ghosts, strangers, reciprocity

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A Russian military grave in eastern Mongolia, 2009 (©Gregory Delaplace)

Parasitic Chinese, Vengeful Russians. Ghosts, Strangers and Reciprocity in Mongolia

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18/s1, pp. s131‐s144.

Special issue: The return to hospitality: strangers, guests, and ambiguous encounters. Edited by Matei Candea and Giovanni Da Col.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467–9655.2012.01768.x

Summary:

This paper considers stories of haunting by ghosts of a foreign origin that have been circulating lately in the capital city of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. These narratives, it is argued, depict Chinese and Russian people as very different kinds of strangers, defined by contrastive regimes of relationship with their host. Contrary to Russians, who are still remembered – rightly or not – as great providers, Chinese people are pictured in these stories as some kind of parasites, who constantly take from Mongolian land and never give anything in return.

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2011 — Burying submerging forgetting

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Bayan Hoshuu cemetery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1999 (©Gregory Delaplace)

Burying, Submerging, Forgetting. Inventing and Subverting the Memory of the Dead in Mongolia

English version of: “Enterrer, submerger, oublier. Invention et subversion du souvenir des morts en Mongolie”

Raisons Politiques 41/1, pp. 87–103.

Special issue: Fragments de corps et restes humains. Edited by Arnaud Esquerre & Gérôme Truc.

DOI10.3917/rai.041.0087

Summary:

This paper concerns a reform of funerary practices carried out in Mongolia from the mid‐1950s onward. Imposing burial, it aimed at banning the ritual performed until then, which consisted in laying the corpse of deceased people in the open. This practice was deemed improper and unsuited to urban life. The success of this reform was ambivalent : while burial seems to have been adopted without too much difficulty by the population, cemeteries did not become what the reformers had hoped they would. Envisioned as fenced and flowered spaces, where the memory of dead people could be celebrated with dignity, they took the form of vast wastelands which are avoided as much as possible, and where graves are left to oblivion and derelict. The purpose of this paper is to understand why the project of this reform has been subverted in this fashion, by caracterising the funerary ideology that corresponds the peculiar configuration of Mongolian cemeteries.

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2011 — Enterrer submerger oublier

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Bayan Hoshuu cemetery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1999 (©Gregory Delaplace)

Enterrer, submerger, oublier. Invention et subversion du souvenir des morts en Mongolie

Raisons Politiques 41/1, pp. 87–103.

Special issue: Fragments de corps et restes humains. Edited by Arnaud Esquerre & Gérôme Truc.

DOI10.3917/rai.041.0087

Summary:

Cet article traite d’une réforme des pratiques funéraires conduite en Mongolie à partir du milieu des années 1950. Instituant l’obligation d’enterrer les morts, son enjeu principal est de rendre illégal le rituel pratiqué jusqu’à lors, consistant à déposer les cadavres des défunts à même le sol. Cette pratique, en effet, est jugée inconvenante et inadaptée à la vie urbaine. Le succès de la réforme est mitigé : si l’inhumation semble avoir été adoptée sans trop de difficulté par la population, les cimetières, en revanche, ne prennent pas le tour que les réformateurs avaient souhaité. Imaginés comme des espaces enclos et fleuris, où le souvenir des morts pourrait être dignement célébré, ils se présentent jusqu’à aujourd’hui comme de vastes terrains vagues, évités autant que possible, où les tombes sont livrées à l’oubli et au délabrement. Il s’agira ici de comprendre les raisons de la subversion du projet de cette réforme, en tentant de caractériser l’idéologie funéraire qui sous‐tend la configuration singulière des cimetières mongols.

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2010 — Chinese ghosts in Mongolia

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Chinese Merchants in Our, beginning of 20th century (©Mongolian National Archives)

Chinese Ghosts in Mongolia

Inner Asia 12/1, pp. 127–141.

Special issue: Oral Histories of Socialist Modernities in central and Inner Asia. Edited by U.E. Bulag, C. Kaplonski and Y. Konagaya.

DOI: 10.1163/146481710792710282

Summary:

This paper explores a rumour that has been circulating lately in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. People report encounters with Chinese ghosts, who appear in the form of long‐bearded old men dressed in silken clothes. These curious apparitions are recognised by the population as the souls of Chinese merchants, who remained attached to the place where they buried the wealth they accumulated during their life. At a time when Chinese economic expansion raises concerns among the Mongolian population, these ghosts of the colonial era sound like a warning against present‐day Chinese migrants. Introducing several of these stories, this paper shows that Chinese people are imagined as essentially parasitic beings, who not only come to Mongolia to trade but stick to the place, even beyond their own death, to suck out its vital resources.

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2010 — Le cheval magnétomètre

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A herder with his favorite horse, Harhiraa, Uvs, Mongolia (©Gregory Delaplace)

Le cheval magnétomètre. Dressage et choses invisibles en Mongolie

in D. Aigle, I. Charleux, V. Goossaert et R. Hamayon, Mélanges en l’honneur de Françoise Aubin, Sankt Augustin: Miscellania Asiatica, 2010, pp. 121–139.

ISBN: 9783805005685

Summary:

It is a well‐known fact throughout the literature that Mongol people credit their horses with a special ability to feel the presence of things – “souls,” “ghosts” or “land masters” – that remain invisible to ordinary humans most of the time. Drawing on fieldwork with the Dörvöd herders of Northwestern Mongolia, this chapter develops this idea, and analyses four horse behaviours – shivering, neighing, stopping and micturition – interpreted by Mongols as reactions to different kinds of presence. Electromagnetism is taken here as a metaphor to understand people’s relationship to “invisible things”; it is argued moreover that, through a complex technology of dressage, horses are used as instruments comparable to magnetometers, expected to react to invisible presences proportionally to their proximity and to the intensity of their manifestation.

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2013 — What the invisible looks like

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Offerings made on the location of an open air burial, Harhiraa, Uvs, Mongolia (©Gregory Delaplace)

What the Invisible Looks Like. Ghosts, Perceptual Faith and Mongolian Regimes of Communication

in Ruy Blanes and Diana Espírito Santo (eds.), The Social Life of Spirits, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2013, p. 52–68.

ISBN: 9780226081779

Summary:

This chapter draws on Mongolian herders’ stories of their own encounters with “ghosts” (süns, chötgör), and highlights the specific narrative techniques by which people describe their sudden perception of what is otherwise known as “invisible things” (üzegdehgüi yum). Ghosts, it is argued, are better defined by their specific regime of communication –i.e. the conditions in which they might become perceptible to some people– than by their ontological properties –i.e. the conditions in which they are thought to exist. Indeed, while herders tend to doubt the existence of ghosts in general, they readily admit that certain particular sensations undoubtedly shake one’s sense of dwelling, hinting that the world, to paraphrase Merleau Ponty, might not always be what we see. Expanding on this idea, this chapter proposes to envisage ghosts’ mode of existence through the prism of their mode of manifestation.

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2014 — Retoucher les morts

Illustration article Retoucher les morts

Retoucher les morts. Les usages magiques de la photographie en Mongolie

Published in Terrain 62 (2014), pp. 138–151.

DOI: 10.4000/terrain.15390

Summary: When somebody dies in Mongolia it is customary to make a funerary portrait of the deceased based on an identity card photograph which is then enlarged, coloured and touched up. Such a portrait is used during the funeral and is then placed near religious images close to the hearth of the house where the deceased lived before his, or her, death. These portraits are a kind of double of the dead via which the deceased can receive offerings from close kins during the period of mourning and afterwards. Photographs have an indexical and iconic value which derives from the fact that they are both a trace of the deceased and that they resemble them. In Mongolia as elsewhere this gives them the magical power of reaching a person who is either far away or absent. In touching up the portraits of dead relatives the Mongols seem to go further in such magical uses of photography. When they retouch the image they are not only creating a support for their relation to the dead but they also seem to give themselves the means of transforming them.

Retoucher les morts
Illustration article open air treasure

2015 — An Open Air Treasure

Illustration article open air treasure

An Open Air Treasure in Mongolia. A Short History of the Uranium Mining Town of Mardai

Published in Japanese — Translated from English by Professor Tanase Jiro.

Original Title: Mongoru no “arawa naru takara”. Urankôzan toshi marudai ni tsuitei no oboegaki.

Published in Tanase Jiro & Shimamura Ippei (eds.), Sôgen to kôseki. Mongoru, Chibetto ni okeru shigenkaihatsu to kankyômondai (Steppe and Mine. Natural Resource Development and Environmental Problems in Mongolia and Tibet), Akashi Shoten, Tokyo, 2015, pp. 39–52.

An Open Air Treasure in Mongolia
Mongoru No Arawa Naru Takarapdf
vignette illustration article establishing misunderstanding

2014 — Establishing Mutual Misunderstanding

illustration article establishing misunderstanding

Establishing Mutual Misunderstanding. A Buryat Shamanic Ritual in Ulaanbatar

With Batchimeg Sambalkhundev.

Published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20/4 (2014), pp. 617–634.

DOI: 10.1111/1467–9655.12126

Summary: This article discusses a strange case of shamanic ritual performed for a Buryat family in Mongolia’s capital city Ulaanbaatar. This performance not only differs from those described in the regional literature, but it also seems to challenge some of the models used to account for ritual efficacy. Indeed, while the cathartic use of Buryat traumatic history to deal with a patient’s misfortune in shamanic rituals is quite well documented, this performance stands out for the uncompassionate hopelessness with which spirits spoke of the family’s fate as exiles in Mongolia. Meanwhile, the ever‐growing tension between participants, which culminated in an open crisis, would be a sure sign of a ritual failure had it not been the clear result of the shaman’s own efforts to establish mutual misunderstanding between the spirits, the patients, and herself. Drawing on a pragmatic approach to ritual efficacy, this article ponders on the specific purpose of a performance which seems to be aimed at creating a context of miscommunication between participants.

Establishing Mutual Misunderstanding
Illustration article drones

2017 — Comment pensent les drones

Illustration article drones

Comment pensent les drones. La détection et l’identification de cibles invisibles

Published in L’Homme 222 (2017), pp. 91–118

DOI: 10.4000/lhomme.30152

Summary: The ethical debates surrounding the use of combat drones by the United States for military operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen have tended to focus on the particular case of so‐called « personality strikes », whose declared purpose is to remotely assassinate high‐level representatives of « terrorist » organisations. Rather than previously identified people, however, the majority of drone strikes carried out nowadays by American drones actually target anonymous individuals, who come to be « identified » as « insurgents » on the basis of their behaviour as perceived from above. Within the context of this kind of attacks, referred to as « signature strikes », targets appear to drone operators through signs which require a collective interpretative process following their detection. Drawing on available data on this topic, and mostly on the transcript of an attack carried out in Afghanistan by the US Army in February 2010, this paper tries to chart how exactly invisible targets come to be identified as such by American combat drones.

Comment pensent les drones