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Middlebury College

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Program Name

Mongolia: Geopolitics and the Environment


Sense of place, place-­‐based identities, and “placeness” are fundamental ways through which human beings understand their physical place in the world. The means by which most Mongolians—and indeed most human beings—strive for placeness is fairly simple. First, one decides what location will become their place. Their place may be predetermined (i.e. a birthplace) or chosen (based on the wildlife, the scenery, the neighborhood, etc.). Once one has a place, sense of place necessarily follows. One’s place becomes the standard by which locations are understood, and by which one understands oneself. The latter process constitutes the formation of place-­‐based identities, which inform how one will strive for the feeling of placeness.

Although the outcomes may vary, this framework can be seamlessly applied to any community, and is especially applicable in Mongolia. Mongolia is going through incredible demographic transitions, making it an especially unique location to study the different ways in which people understand their place in the world. The implications of individuals’ understandings of place were explored in four research locations: Galuut soum (Bayankhongor aimag), the UB ger district, Ulaanbaatar, and Ulgii (Bayan-­‐Ulgii aimag). The senses of place, place-­‐based identities and placeness of citizens in each of these locations were studied through literature review and synthesis, interviews, surveys and participant observation, and supplemented by photographs and vignettes. In the end, this research illuminated two trends. First, various cultural and geographical factors give rise to a diversity of social identities within Mongolia. Secondly, the deep importance of family to Mongolians tends to homogenize individual identities.

At the end of this paper, I propose the creation of a law on Human Impact Assessments, which would require the assessment of the role of sense of place, place-­‐based identities, and placeness in communities affected by the activities of the central government and private companies.


Asian Studies | Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Geography | Human Geography | Law and Society | Nature and Society Relations | Place and Environment | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology of Culture | Theory, Knowledge and Science


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