Experiencing Mongolian Mobility : An ethnographic study of Mongolian rural-urban migration

Thumbnail Image
Issue Date
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Mongolia is urbanizing exponentially. Domestic migrants now account for 31,6 percent of the adult population of Mongolia and nearly half of those have moved to Ulaanbaatar (World Bank, 2011). The population of Ulaanbaatar accounted for 14% of the total population of Mongolia in 1956, increased to 22.3% in 1969 and increased further in 43.6% in 2010 (Bayanchimeg & Batbayar, 2012). Many of the migrants that created this exponential population growth come from the vast rural areas of Mongolia. Internal migration has the potential to significantly change a country and internal migration also changes migrants. Rural-urban migrant face their own sets of challenges when migrating to Ulaanbaatar, in this thesis I examine how the mobility and the livelihood strategy (on an individual level and on a household level) change the migrant and how mobility and livelihood relate with regard to migration, sedentarism and nomadism in Mongolia. The experience a rural-urban migrant in Mongolia has with regard to their mobility depends greatly upon the migrant. In this thesis some differences in the experienced mobility of a migrant come to light when migration is distinguished in three phases: premigration, first arrival in the city and post-migration. Some migrants, especially those with a nomadic background, experience high levels of mobility in the pre-migration phase. They are constantly in an mobile ‘in-between’ state (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). The nomadic lifestyle that characterises the pre-migration phase offers a ‘freedom’ that a sedentary life cannot. A key role in the experience happens in the second phase: a migrant’s experienced mobility changes when arriving in the city. Ulaanbaatar acts like a magnet attracting the migrant initially but then holding them in resulting in high levels of immobility. In the postmigration phase some migrants regain some of their former mobility through increased financial means. In general the rural-urban migration of Mongolian migrants to Ulaanbaatar decreases their experienced mobility. Mobility is a ‘motor of change’ (Ernste, Martens & Schapendonk, 2012). The change in a migrant’s mobility is not always for the better. This creates friction and nostalgia among many migrants between assimilation into city-life and keeping their nomadic traditions. Their cultural identity might transform to more of a sedentary life but it still retains elements of nomadism. This is the essence of the issue between sedentarism and nomadism. In Mongolian rural-urban migrants there is evidence of both. The impact of the migration process on the Mongolian migrant is partly influenced by this nomadic past of Mongolia. In most migration-cases migrants detach from a sedentary lifestyle in their place of origin and make a migratory move (become mobile), in the case of Mongolian migrants the reverse is true. Rural-urban migration is often seen as a livelihood strategy made on household level. In the case of the Mongolian migrants this is rarely true. The decision affecting households is often made by an individual member in order to gain personal development. The family process is not driven by a household livelihood strategy but more by the desire further development of an individual. Mongolians often feel that the future of this younger generation is in Ulaanbaatar which keep the in-migration rate high and the out-migration rate low. An individual’s decision making process influences the livelihood of the rest of the household. An individual can make decisions which directly correlate to the furtherance of the collective household livelihood, but often times makes decisions to further their own goals. A decision for the personal development of that individual has consequences for the rest of the household, a collective effect. The link between a household’s livelihood approach, their mobility experience and their eventual migration exists, but the decision is often made by an individual member of a household instead of as a collective decision. Migration leads to an extension of the family in geographical terms. This creates multi-local households. The multi-local household, and its process of livelihood decision making, is influenced by their initial mobility. The attitude and willingness to migrate is part of that household. The high mobility experience inherent to a nomadic lifestyle, this makes the migration process possible. The mobility influences livelihood on a household level and influences choices by individual members.
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen