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Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit



Richard Fraser is an anthropologist and Associate Professor at Sichuan University in China. He completed his PhD at the University of Leiden and was recently apostdoctoral researcher at the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge. Richard has carried out fieldwork with Evenki, Orochen, and Mongol communities in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang province since 2007, as well as with Darhad and Tsaatan communities in Mongolia since 2010. His regional specialisation is Northern and Inner Asia, specifically China and China’s minorities, Mongolia, and Siberia. His research interests span human-environment relationships; phenomenological-existential anthropology; pastoralism, hunting and land-use; cultural heritage and ethnic tourism; skill and learning; ethnic minorities and the state; displacement and resettlement; mining and resources; renewable and non-renewable energy; climate change; human-animal relations; shamanism and animism; and socialism and postsocialism.


Richard is currently writing up the results of an AHRC-funded project: “Imaging Minority Culture: Photography, Digital Sharing, and Cultural Survival in Northeast China” (2017-2019). This was a project to research a previously unseen and recently digitised photographic archive of two ethnic minorities in northeast China: the Ethel John Lindgren Collection of Evenki and Orochen communities at the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Cambridge. The project usedthe photographs as tools during ethnographic fieldwork amongst contemporary Evenki and Orochen communities, identifying locations, landscapes, and material objects to better understand everyday social life during this formative period in pre-communist China. In addition to working with communities and co-curating an exhibition,the project also documentedthe process of digital repatriation and sharing and exploredtheir uses by community and state actors in the context of surging interest and investment in 'protecting' minority heritage and culture.


Richard is also currently developing a new project application to assess the impact of China’s “Arctic Silk Road” on the indigenous and ethnic minority communities along its route. The Arctic Silk Road is a newinfrastructure networkset tofacilitate tradeand resource extraction between China and Europe across thenorthern sea. While it has attracted considerable interest from Arctic states for its potential economic benefits, it has also fostered uncertainty among indigenous and ethnic minority communities, who have memories of past infrastructural development and the lingering effects of state incursions on local livelihoods and environments. In some cases, this is fostering collective mobilisation against the Arctic Silk Road through the politicisation of landscapes, livelihood strategies such as reindeer herding, and cultural identities. At the same time, it is forging new alliancesbetween indigenous and ethnic minorities, leading to increased funding and support for cultural revitalisation, novel encounters between states, Chinese infrastructure developers, and non-indigenous communities, and giving voice to alternate expressions and imaginings of Arctic futures. 

Taking three case-studies from China, Russia, and Norway, the project will explore the material and cultural dimensions of the Arctic Silk Road by follow the construction of current - and future-anticipated - infrastructure and transportation development at three representative sites. The project will first trace the history of past infrastructure development at each site to provide context for, and to compare and contrast with, Chinese-led infrastructure today. It will then assess the impact on, and potential opportunities for, indigenous and minority communities, specifically from the perspective of local livelihoods, environments, and expressions of cultural identity. Although each case-study is geographically distinct, they are situated at three strategic nodes along the Arctic Silk Road. Each is characterised by a particular indigenous or ethnic minority experiencing infrastructural development at different stages of the wider project. The communities share common ethnic and livelihood characteristics based primarily on reindeer herding, yet are situated within three distinct political and economic systems. They are thus representative of the broader changes taking place along the route while offering comparative insights into the individual issues faced by local communities. For this, Richard is currently a Visiting Research Associate at the Arctic Studies Centre at Liaocheng University in China (


Finally, Richard is completing his first book project: “Skill, Social Change and Survival in Postsocialist Northern Mongolia”, based on his PhD fieldwork and currently under contract with Amsterdam University Press. The book presentsa new hermeneutic framework for elucidating the polydirectional experience of postsocialist change, taking the form of an extension of Tim Ingold’s (2000, 2001) concept of enskilment – and inspired by a broader anthropology of skill and practice. It develops a processual and polydirectional approach to postsocialist change grounded in skilled practice, which envisions the transmission of skills as not only being re/produced between the generations,, but also new skills learnt in articulation with change, as well as skills that are lost, forgotten, transformed, adapted, and transposed in relation to transforming social, economic, and political contexts. By extending skill in this way and observing transformations in skilled practice, it argues that we are afforded better insight into the polydirectional experiences characteristic of the late postsocialist context, and which can better reveal a more diverse range of processes as they are experienced by people in their everyday lives. 


Richard continues to work closely with colleagues in Cambridge and especially at the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit. He is a member of CIRE (Cambridge Interdisciplinary Research on the Environment and the Climate Histories Seminar Series.    





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