Prior Research

Some of the previous research projects I’ve done include:

The lama question: violence, sovereignty and exception in early socialist Mongolia

Now out with the University of Hawaii Press.

Before becoming the second socialist country in the world (after the Soviet Union) in 1921, Mongolia had been a Buddhist feudal theocracy. Combatting the influence of the dominant Buddhist establishment to win the hearts and minds of the Mongolian people was one of the most important challenges faced by the new socialist government. It would take almost a decade and a half to resolve the “lama question,” and it would be answered with brutality, destruction, and mass killings. Chris Kaplonski examines this critical, violent time in the development of Mongolia as a nation-state and its ongoing struggle for independence and recognition in the twentieth century.

Unlike most studies that explore violence as the primary means by which states deal with their opponents, The Lama Question argues that the decision to resort to violence in Mongolia was not a quick one; neither was it a long-term strategy nor an out-of control escalation of orders but the outcome of a complex series of events and attempts by the government to be viewed as legitimate by the population. Kaplonski draws on a decade of research and archival resources to investigate the problematic relationships between religion and politics and geopolitics and biopolitics in early socialist Mongolia, as well as the multitude of state actions that preceded state brutality. By examining the incidents and transformations that resulted in violence and by viewing violence as a process rather than an event, his work not only challenges existing theories of political violence, but also offers another approach to the anthropology of the state. In particular, it presents an alternative model to philosopher Georgio Agamben’s theory of sovereignty and the state of exception.

Remembering repression: violence, memory and morality in Mongolia

Since 1997, I have had an on-going project that examines the legacy of political violence, specifically in the case of Mongolia, political repression. I have been examining the impact of political violence on the shaping of identity in the contemporary political arena and the everyday lives of people in Mongolia. After fifteen years of research and publishing on the topic, I am currently drawing together my work into a book, Remembering repression: violence, memory and morality in Mongolia

This work brings together over a decade of research on how political violence has been remembered and used in post-socialist Mongolia, particularly in regards to moral claims to authority. A key theme in this work is the intersection of legal and social approaches to rehabilitation and commemoration of victims of political violence. One section of the monograph looks at how competing social and legal definitions of who is a victim of repression allow those who are by legal standards not victims to stake a claim to moral authority over people who are legally defined as victims. Another section examines the way the rehabilitation process is shaped by a demand for documents that serves to foreground particular narrative tropes that in turn shape the social understanding of the repressions.

The Oral History of Twentieth Century Mongolia

This project, which ran for five years at the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge, has finally launched. Please visit it at at amantuuh.socanth.cam.ac.uk.

It documents the lived experiences of life under socialism, and involves an international team of approximately 15 people, whom I have been responsible for managing. The oral history project contains over 610 interviews, with people from across Mongolia freely available on a public website, which I also designed and wrote. In addition to the transcriptions, selected translations and audio and video, the website will include supporting information, such as photographs and documents that the people interviewed themselves have felt relevant to their stories. Extensive information on both the people interviewed and the interviewers and the search capabilities will give the project a degree of flexibility unparalleled in such projects. It does much more than this, however, as it seeks to create new understandings of people’s memories of how they understood, reacted to and even attempted to pre-empt experiences of state transformations, such as collectivization, education and hygiene campaigns. It not only documents individuals’ engagements with the state, but sheds light on the larger processes whereby people’s social, political, cultural and economic contexts inform their memories of such responses.

Truth, history and politics in Mongolia: the memory of heroes