City of felt and concrete: Negotiating cultural hybridity in Mongolia's capital of Ulaanbaatar

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 3-11-2013


Capital cities play an integral role in the construction of national identity. This is particularly true when the capital is the country's only major urban center. Over the course of its history, Mongolia's capital of Ulaanbaatar has been periodically reshaped to reflect competing trajectories of national culture. This article examines the evolving symbolism of architecture, urban design, and public space in Ulaanbaatar as a means of exploring Mongolia's complex negotiation between its traditional culture (mobile pastoralism and Shamanism/Buddhism), its socialist legacy, and globalization. Amidst the rampant social change of the last two decades, rather ambiguous national narratives have emerged in Mongolia. Like the capital's cityscape, these narratives reflect aspects of both recent and distant pasts, as well as contemporary economic, political, and social realities. This article reveals how increasingly palpable global economic and cultural practices are fomenting material change in the current phase of Ulaanbaatar's evolution. A combination of secondary source research and observations drawn from several months of fieldwork provide the basis for a discussion of the city's role as a forum for cultural contestation and national reform.


This article is freely available from Taylor & Francis a thttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00905992.2012.743513#.U_92GTJdV8. Copyright © 2013 Association for the Study of Nationalities.