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Position Pieces

Vol. 11 No. 2: April issue

​​Making ‘Setgel’s Creature’ Mindful​: Conceptual Change in Contemporary Mongolia

October 15, 2022


As globally circulating understandings of mental health and mindfulness practices gain popularity in Mongolia, they articulate with setgel, a localised concept that has been shaped by a constellation of historical forces. Loosely translated as ‘mind’ in English, setgel has remained central to Mongolian notions of personhood, health, and civic duty, even as the meanings associated with those ideas have changed. As progressivist forces, Tibetan Buddhism and the dominant Soviet political culture of much of the 20th century have held and shaped values in public life. This Position Piece explores the role of power relations and political economy in changing associations of setgel through the example of a recent state-sponsored, Buddhist-inflected mindfulness promotional event for Mongolian influencers. It asks broader questions about how anthropologists as generators of ‘cultural’ knowledge attend to expectations from institutional hosts in the field while also maintaining fidelity to historical change in our work.