Department of Social Anthropology

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Fear and Fortune: Spirit worlds and emerging economies in the Mongolian gold rush

What is the lure of gold? And at what price are we willing to pursue it?

Fear and Fortune by Dr Mette High explores how a present-day gold rush in Mongolia has brought into question people’s common understandings of wealth and value. Tracing the continuities and discontinuities between human and nonhuman worlds, this book follows the paths of gold as it is excavated and converted into ‘polluted money’, entering local shops and Buddhist monasteries, joining the illegal gold trade and returning as ‘renewed’ money for the ‘big bosses’ of the gold mines.

Although national and international commentators rejoice in Mongolia’s immense mineral wealth, the participants in the gold rush maneuver dangerously within a financially profitable yet morally charged economy of mineral extraction. With gold retaining strong ties to the landscape and its many spirit beings, the fortune of the precious metal is inseparable from the fears that surround mining. Fear and Fortune demonstrates how in the ‘land of dust’ money now circulates as a key vector of adversity and as an effectively devalued currency associated with angered spirits and impending calamities.

Rather than being exclusively authored and authorized by a state and its central bank, this book shows how national currencies can slip into alternative value regimes and become part of an altered cosmoeconomic reality. Addressing how our lives and those of others are intimately intertwined, it offers an expansive and capacious approach to understanding the high stakes.


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