Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Peter D. Little


Post-socialist states have increasingly adopted rural governance and resource management policies framed around the concepts of decentralization, devolution, and de-concentration in which formerly central state powers are transferred to lower, more local levels of governance. In more recent incarnations, these policies have become inspired by neo-liberal discourses of minimal government, self-rule, and personal responsibility. Increasingly, the social science literature has argued that such forms of neo-liberal governance lead to a variety of unforeseen and diverse consequences. This dissertation attempts to understand the impact of these political transformations on household vulnerability in the context of hazardous events called zud. I do this through an ethnographic study of institution-building and risk management in a pastoral district of eastern Mongolia where I explore contemporary transformations in the management of critical resources such as livestock, labor, and land.

As this dissertation shows, differential mobility practices are strongly correlated to zud-based livestock mortality rates. In particular, households that are more capable of practicing otor, a kind of non-customary and irregular migration strategy, are less susceptible to the conditions that threaten herd loss. Households with a greater capacity for conducting otor are able to move greater distances, in shorter time spans, and to regions with less severe conditions, thereby escaping the possibility of facing high loss rates. Differential capacity to mitigate the risk of zud conditions also was found to be deeply affected by previously under-studied institutional transformations surrounding rights and access to livestock, labor, and land.

Primarily, this study demonstrates that decentralization and other neo-liberal models of governance not only open space for significant reconfiguration of the institutional landscape in ways that support social inequality, but also subsequently lead to increased differentiation in vulnerability to disaster. Theoretically, this work contributes to critical understandings of political ecology by uncovering circulations of power through constellations of actors (human and otherwise), institutions, and meanings as well as through bio-physical landscapes. In addition, this study contributes to work in vulnerability studies by shedding light on how administrative governance, local institution-building, and property-making shift the apportionment of entitlements to produce hazardous conditions and unequal distributions of risk and vulnerability.

Included in

Anthropology Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.