Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Social versus Spatial Mobility? Mongolia’s Pastoralists in the Educational Development Discourse

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Abstract:  When it comes to education for mobile pastoralists, Mongolia is an exceptional case. Until fifty years ago, herders comprised the majority of the Mongolian population. Although a satellite of the Soviet Union, the Mongolian People’s Republic was a state in which mobile pastoralism was not challenged, and herders were not constructed as social outcasts. Equally exceptional was the country’s modernisation, witnessed in its decided alignment with equal opportunities. In Mongolia, it was not ‘nomadism’ that was associated with backwardness, but illiteracy. Policy-makers aimed to combine spatial with social mobility by building schools further and further out in the grasslands, employing locals as teachers, and fostering interplay between modern formal education and extensive animal husbandry. Yet after 1990, when development discourse pigeon-holed post-socialist Mongolia as a Third World country, the so-called shock therapy led to severe cuts in education. Herders were essentialised as ‘nomads’, which caused donor-driven policies of educational planning to construe pastoralists as challenges. Ironically, during the initial decade of Education for All, the younger generation had—for the first time in Mongolia’s history—less educational opportunities than their parents. This article discusses narratives of inclusion and the political consequences of ascribed social identities.

Keywords:  development discourse; essentialism; inclusion; nomads; postsocialism; social and spatial mobility



© Ines Stolpe. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.