This article focuses on recent railway projects in Selenge and Gobi provinces in Mongolia by addressing railway plans and narratives from a historical perspective. New imaginations and expectations have arisen in connection with planned rail infrastructures such as the “Steppe Road,” which to date only exists on the papers of planners and in the minds of residents. Taking the insight by Morten Axel Pedersen and Mikkel Bunkenborg that roads may act as “technologies of distantiation,” this article further argues that railroads not only connect but also separate, traverse, and disperse. Thus, the critical question remains whether the rail system connects Mongolia or whether is it rather used as a transit zone for outside interests.
Maria-Katharina Lang is a researcher and project director at the Institute of Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. She directed the project Nomadic Artefacts (WWTF; 2013–2017) and currently directs Dispersed and Connected: Artistic Fragments along the Silk and Steppe Roads (FWF; 2017–2022). Lang published Nomadic Artefacts: A Scientific Artistic Travelogue (2016), The Mongolian Collections: Retracing Hans Leder (2013), and various peer-reviewed articles on material culture. She curated the exhibitions Steppe & Silk Roads (2021; MARKK Hamburg), Nomadic Artefacts (2016/2018; Vienna, Hamburg, Heidelberg) and Artefact as Links (2017, Ulaanbaatar). Her main research is focused on Mongolian studies, artistic research, and anthropology of art. Email: Maria-Katharina.Lang@oeaw.ac.at
Baatarnaran Tsetsentsolmon is affiliated as a researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and was a lecturer at the National University of Mongolia. She is the author and co-author of several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on music culture, material culture, cultural heritage, and socialist and post-socialist cultural transformations in Mongolia. She has collaborated with Maria-Katharina Lang on the projects Dispersed and Connected: Artistic Fragments along the Silk and Steppe Roads and Nomadic Artefacts. Email: Tsetsentsolmon.Baatarnaran@oeaw.ac.at; firstname.lastname@example.org