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Dr Mette High


Email: mmh20@st-andrews.ac.uk

Phone: (01334) 46 1961

Office: Room 58, United College

Office hours: Tuesday 12 - 1pm & Thursday 12 - 1pm (weeks 4 & 5 only)


Mette High’s field research is in Mongolia and the United States, where she focuses on questions of ethics and economic life. During work for the International Labour Organisation, she became involved in initiatives towards improving the health and welfare of child labourers in Mongolia’s illegal coal mines. She then began her doctoral research on the current Mongolian gold rush, specifically interested in the relationship between fundamental taboos related to the land and its spirits. She received her PhD in social anthropology from University of Cambridge in 2008.

Funded by a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship, she pursued her second research project on the involvement of Buddhist monks in the Mongolian gold rush. Based on fieldwork in monasteries near the mining camps, this project looked at the institutionalisation of religious practice and self-transformational ethics in the context of a booming gold mining industry and drastic political reform.

Building on her theoretical interest in ethical sensibilities and economic transformations in resource extraction, her third research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, has since 2013 shifted her geographical research location to the US. In the state of Colorado, she examined how oil and gas company workers perceived the risks and possibilities involved when applying the technology of ‘hydraulic fracturing’. Her fieldwork with on-site crew and executives in company headquarters informed her interest in topics such as energy industries, commodity markets and global finance, calculation and risk.

High is currently on research leave directing a European Research Council funded project: The Ethics of Oil: Finance Moralities and Environmental Politics in the Global Oil Economy (ENERGY ETHICS). Based on multiple ethnographic studies in Europe and the US, this 5-year research project considers how people in the oil economy make financial and ethical valuations of oil. As this project brings an anthropological sensitivity to issues of money, energy and climate change, its ambition is to provide a novel framework for investigating how oil valuations relate to political reforms and new climate economic initiatives.

Underlying all her research projects, where money, metals and energy travel far beyond national borders, is a keen and ongoing desire to understand how global economic processes intersect with intimate moral views. In addition to her academic publications, she also explores these issues in collaborations with artists and film makers as well as in her work as a committee member of the UK Future Earth.

Research information

She is interested in supervising research on issues of economic and religious life, energy practices and natural resource engagements.

Selected publications


2017. Fear and Fortune: Spirit worlds and emerging economies in the Mongolian gold rush. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

2010. Ayultai Hishig (Dangerous Fortunes: An Anthropological Study of the Mongolian Informal Gold Mining Economy). Preface by Prof. Sendenzhavyn Dulam and Foreword by Prof. Caroline Humphrey, transl. by Bum-Ochir Dulam. Admon Press: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Special Issues:

2019. Energy and Ethics? The Ethical Constitution of Energy Dilemmas. With J.M. Smith. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

2017. Exploring the anthropology of energy: Ethnography, energy and ethics. With J. Smith. Energy Research & Social Science volume 30.


2019. Introduction: Energy and Ethics? The Ethical Constitution of Energy Dilemmas. With J.M. Smith. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

2019. Projects of Devotion: Energy Exploration and Moral Ambition in the Cosmoeconomy of Oil and Gas in the Western United States. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

2017. Introduction: Exploring the anthropology of energy: Ethnography, energy and ethics. With J. Smith. Energy Research & Social Science 30: 1-6.

2016. A Question of Ethics: The Creative Orthodoxy of Buddhist Monks in the Mongolian Gold Rush. Ethnos

2013. Cosmologies of Freedom and Buddhist Self-Transformation in the Mongolian Gold Rush. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19(4): 753-770.

2013. Polluted Money, Polluted Wealth: Emerging Regimes of Value in the Mongolian Gold Mines. American Ethnologist 40(4): 676-688.

2010. Rulers and Rascals: The Politics of Gold in Mongolian Qing History. With J. Schlesinger. Central Asian Survey 29(3): 289-304.

2008. Wealth and Envy in the Mongolian Gold Mines. Cambridge Anthropology 27(3): 1-19.

Book chapters:

2016. Human Predation and Animal Sociality: The Transformational Agency of ‘Wolf People’in Mongolia. In Animals Out of Place: Cryptozoology in Anthropological Perspective. Hurn, S. (ed.). Pp. 107-119.

2013. Believing in Spirits, Doubting the Cosmos: Religious Reflexivity in the Mongolian Gold Mines. In Ethnographies of Doubt: Faith and Uncertainty in Contemporary Societies. Pelkmans, M. (ed.). Pp. 59-84.

2012. The Cultural Logics of Illegality: Living Outside the Law in the Mongolian Gold Mines. In Change in Democratic Mongolia: Social Relations, Health, Mobile Pastoralism and Mining. Dierkes, J. (ed.). Pp. 249-270.

Other publications:

2014. Gold Mining in Mongolia. In: Selin H. (eds) Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer, Dordrecht.

Research supervision

Currently supervising:


SA1002 – Section ‘Oil and Economic Life’

SA2001 – Section ‘New Turns’

SA3065 – Anthropology of Economic Life

SA5011 – Introduction to Anthropological Theory

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