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Rebecca Empson

Photo - Rebecca Empson

Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8625

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As part of her work on the Mongolian Wolf Economy, Rebecca has recently secured funding for a five year ERC-funded project entitled ‘Emerging Subjects of the New Economy: Tracing Economic Growth in Mongolia’, to start in September this year.

This  project, composed of a group of researchers exploring the form of capitalism emerging in Mongolia’s mineral economy,  will seek to understand how local economic engagements come to determine the economy in particular ways that gives rise to new capitalist vernaculars and forms of subjectivity. The project is composed of five distinct ethnographic studies, including a study of loan and credit systems, changing property regimes and understandings of ownership, religious and nationalist ideologies, and the mining industry itself. 

For details about posts available as part of this project, see:

Dr Rebecca Empson is to give the Malinowski Memorial Lecture this year at the London School of Economics on Thursday 22 May 2014, 6-7pm. Her lecture is entitled: An Economy of Temporary Possession.

Research Interests:

The politics of personhood, subjectivity and memory, exchange across bodily and territorial boundaries, new and alternative economies, migration and diaspora communities, visual and material culture. Regional focus: Inner and East Asia, especially Mongolia.

Research Projects

My new book, Harnessing Fortune: Personhood, Memory and Place in Mongolia (OUP), is based on long-term fieldwork with herding families along the Mongolian Russian border. It examines how people tend to past memories in their homes while navigating new ways of accumulating wealth and fortune in the face of political and economic uncertainties. It is at this intersection, where the politics of tending to the past and the morality of new means of accumulating wealth come together to shape intimate social relations that the book reveals an innovative area for the study of kinship in anthropology. Combining personal experience with ethnographic insight, the volume will be essential reading for social anthropologists and those with a general interest in East Asia and post-socialist countries.

My current research entitled: ‘What does the Wolf Economy Look Like?’ is concerned with new forms of economic activity and subjectivity in the Mongolian Wolf Economy, associated with wide-spread mineral extraction in the region. It questions the role of predicted economic growth to actually set in motion particular kinds of economic activity and shape present forms of subjectivity. Questioning ideas about the performativity of the market and forms of vernacular capitalism, it focuses on aspects of debt, personal loans, ideas about contract and alliance, and new visions of the future in Mongolia.

Past Research Projects

Click here to see Previous Research Projects

Research, developed as part of an interdisciplinary Leverhulme-funded project on changing beliefs of the human body (, was concerned with ‘exchange’ and ‘collaboration’ across bodily and territorial borders. This involved working with health professionals and patients involved in organ transplantation in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. It also involved co-curating an exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, with Anita Herle and Mark Elliott: Assembling Bodies: Art, Science and Imagination (

2003-04 Politics and Prophecy: An Anthropological Study in Mongolia. Funded by the British Academy Larger Research Grants Division (LRG-35383), and the Cambridge Committee for Central and Inner Asia (CCCIA).

2003-06 Objects of Memory: Locating Kinship in Mongolia. Funded by the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship programme (PDF/2003/145).

2007-09 Assembling Bodies: Exploring Technologies That Make Bodies Visible. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

I am a Research Associate of the Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge ( and a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College (

Selected Publications

click here to see the list of selected publications


Swedish/English (bilingual), Mongolian (speaking: advanced, reading and writing: intermediate), French and Russian (speaking, reading, writing: basic).

PhD Students

Joseph Bristley – Money in Mongolia

William Matthews – Tea Culture in Beijing, China

Joe Ellis – Mongolian Shamanic Political Economy

Dominic William Esler - Catholicism in the northern Sri LankanTamil community


Alice Elliot - The outside inside, the inside outside: emigration and the imagination of life in Central Morocco.

Alison C Macdonald Breast cancer survivorship among middle class women in Mumbai, India

Tom McDonald - Configurations of comfort: pleasure, place and persons in a south-western Chinese town

Catalina TesarWomen married off to chalices. Gender, Kinship and Wealth among Cortorari Romanian Gypsies.

PerspectivismVisions of the FutureAssembling Bodies

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