Plastic Purity and Sacred Dairy

Microbes, Vitality and Standardisation in Mongolian Dairying


  • Björn Reichhardt University of Fribourg
  • Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko University of Copenhagen



Socialism, capitalism, packaging, hygiene, ritual, pasteurisation, fermentation, material culture


By investigating the growing use of plastics within Mongolian dairying, this paper explores emerging microbial/social assemblages as they relate to local and imported ideas of purity and hygiene. Although many Mongolian herders prefer to use dairy equipment made from materials such as wood and hide, these items are increasingly being replaced by plastic ones. As new infrastructure connects northern herders to more extensive markets, it presents challenges for herders and for the microbial communities with whom they co-exist, placing herders under increasing pressures to compete with large-scale dairy enterprises that brand, package and distribute standardised dairy products. Looking at the changing material culture of Mongolian dairying and its relationships with microbial communities, this paper examines two emergent notions of purity: the first in which sterility is generated and contained and the second in which living dairy is harnessed and grown.

Author Biographies

Björn Reichhardt, University of Fribourg

BJÖRN REICHHARDT is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Fribourg where he is part of the project Roadwork: An Anthropology of Infrastructure at China’s Inner Asian Borders. He is a Research Affiliate in the Dairy Cultures research project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Email: 

Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko, University of Copenhagen

SASKIA ABRAHMS-KAVUNENKO is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the University of Copenhagen and the author of Enlightenment and the Gasping City. She has published on the topics of Buddhism, shamanism, postsocialism, plastics, economic anthropology, global warming and pollution and materiality in Mongolia and India. She has held research positions at the Max Planck Institute for Anthropology, New York University Shanghai, the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt and the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Email:


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