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A Thousand Steps to Parliament

Constructing Electable Women in Mongolia

A Thousand Steps to Parliament traces how the complicated, contradictory paths to political representation that women in Mongolia must walk mirror those the world over.

Mongolia has often been deemed an “island of democracy,” commended for its rapid adoption of free democratic elections in the wake of totalitarian socialism. The democratizing era, however, brought alongside it a phenomenon that Manduhai Buyandelger terms “electionization”—a restructuring of elections from time-grounded events into a continuous neoliberal force that governs everyday life beyond the electoral period. In this way, electoral campaigns have come to substitute for the functions of governing, from social welfare to the private sector, requiring an accumulation of wealth and power beyond the reach of most women candidates. In A Thousand Steps to Parliament, Buyandelger shows how successful women candidates instead use strategies of self-polishing to cultivate charisma and a reputation for being oyunlag, or intellectful. This carefully crafted identity can be called the “electable self”: treating their bodies and minds as pliable and renewable, women candidates draw from the same practices of neoliberalism that have unsustainably commercialized elections. By tracing the complicated, contradictory paths to representation that women in Mongolia must walk, A Thousand Steps to Parliament holds a mirror up to democracies the world over, revealing an urgent need to grapple with the encroaching effects of neoliberalism in our global political systems.

288 pages | 34 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: East Asia

Gender and Sexuality

Political Science: Political Behavior and Public Opinion


A Thousand Steps to Parliament is exemplary of political anthropology at its best. Using fine-grained ethnography, detailed historiography, and compelling prose, Buyandelger demonstrates the ways in which elections are so much more than technical exercises. The result is a wholly original and completely convincing analysis of electoral politics and the making of women’s electable selves. Buyandelger gifts us a set of concepts and methods for understanding postsocialist democracy that couldn't be more timely.”

Jessica Greenberg, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

“In her splendid book, Buyandelger covers a wide range of subjects that are altogether fresh and new in the context of the English-language literature on Mongolia. With clear, concise language, she conveys new information about the actual practice of politics in Mongolia while also illuminating the actuality of gender politics—hitherto little studied with such attention and nuance.”

Caroline Humphrey, University of Cambridge

Table of Contents

Abbreviations and Acronyms
Note on Translation and Transliteration
Preface: Hillary Clinton in Mongolia
Introduction: Electable Selves—“Every Woman for Herself!”
   Decision Events
   A Thousand Steps
   Electable Selves
   Feminisms and “Women in Politics”
   On Research
    Two Unique Elections
   Chapter Outline
1. Legacies: Gender and Feminist Politics under State Socialism
   Fluent in Public
   Undisclosed Agents
   Women in Presocialist Mongolia (pre-1921)
   A Department of One’s Own (1924–32)
   Restrategizing: From Propaganda to Workforce (1932–59)
   The Power of Transnational Feminism (1959–70)
   Women’s Well-being and Advancing in Leadership (1960s–1990)
   Conclusion: The Power of Abstract Principles
2. Electionization: Governing and the New Economies of Democratization
   The Euphoric Country
   Short Histories of Electionization
   Candidates: More Winners than Seats
   Voters: Expect Actions, Not Promises
   New Electoral Economies: Giggers and Election Experts
   The Ones Who Do Not Care: Subjectivities and “Social Songs”
   Power-holders and Campaign Promises
   Conclusion: Governing the Political Time
3. SurFaces: Campaigns and the Interdependence of Gender and Politics
   The (in)Substance of an Epoch
   The Surreal Ecology of Campaign Media
   The Magnitude: Why So Many?
   Enfacement: Dull Images and Risk-Takers
   Deep Surfaces
   The Honest Gender
   The Civic Defense
   Expanding the Surface
   Conclusion: Triangulation of Images
4. The Backstage: Inside (Pre)-Campaigning Strategies
   A New Candidate: Beyond Gender
   Made with Politics
   Strategies and Tactics
   Affective Strategies: Knowledge Work, Night Work, Drink Work
   Architectural Strategies: The Fight to Get a Constituency
   A Panoptic Practice: Building the Base and Capital
   Resorting to Tactics: Internal Competition and Debasing
   In Someone’s Territory: Watching Campaigning as Governing
   Conclusion: Electionization as Force
5. Intellectful: Women against Commercialized Campaigns
   The Silken Intellect
   Pulling the Plug on Campaigning
   The Charisma of the Oyunlag
   An Intellectful Celebrity: Funding with a Novel
   Campaigning with Symbolic Capital: The New Oyunlag in Politics
   Social Circles versus Assemblages
   Gatherers, Warmer-Uppers, and Movers
   Financing: The Guide against Chaos
   From Revealing the Fraud of 2008 to the 2012 Election
   Conclusion: Oyunlag as a Disruptive Force
6. Self-Polishing: Styling the Candidate from Inside and Outside
   A Makeover
   The Benders of Neoliberalism
   Super Secretaries and Parliamentary Candidates
   Electability as a Shifting Target
   Self-Polishing: Change Yourself, Change Your Home, and then Change Your Country
   Self-Styling: Power Suits and Updated Deel
   Zanaa and the Up-to-date Deel
   Inner Cultivation: Care of a Candidate
   Conclusion: Beauty as a Political Project
Conclusion: The Glass Ceiling as a Looking Glass

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