Becoming-Geser, Becoming-Buryat: Oral Epic and the Politics of Navigating Four Identity Crises

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Thursday 13 September 2018


Room 1201. Talanoa Room


Jonathan Ratcliffe


Jonathan Ratcliffe

In this thesis I look closely at the relationship between the Tibetan mythological hero Geser and the Buryat Mongols of Southern Siberia over the past century. I concentrate upon on four important periods of Buryat identity crisis in which Geser and his oral epic traditions have been used by academic elites to attempt to remake who the Buryats are in the face of a rapidly changing world. These crises have taken place under very different political and ideological conditions. The first is the development of Buryat nationalism in the Russian Empire in the first decade of the 20th century. The second is Stalinist Era drive to produce “national cultures” using heroic epic traditions in the 1940s-50s following the forced collectivisation of the Buryats. The third: the post-Soviet rediscovery of ethnic identity that swept the former USSR in the early 1990s. Lastly, I look at how Geser is being utilised today in the era of globalisation and the internet. To understand how Geser was used as a symbol for navigating these four crises, I utilise Michel Foucault’s term “dispositif” – an ideological apparatus that develops around the urgent need to deal with social crisis, conditions epistemology, but also permits a multiplicity of responses and subversions to them. Through this lens we will see how Geser and the Buryats have been made and remade, the past has been selectively remembered and forgotten in order to live with cultural loss, and how epic narratives remain a body of symbols to which people can return again and again to ground a “deep time” of ethnic history and identity. In this thesis I emphasise that conceptions of identity remain a historical trail of ever changing and reworked symbols – an ever-unfinished and mutable becoming-Buryat colliding with a becoming-Geser.

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