In what ways do our social and economic systems shape our daily lives? What traces do these systems leave behind as they pass into history? To any member of a modern, industrialized society, these questions are important, but for those from outside the developed, Western world — those whose national history is a more multifarious one — the questions take on a particular significance. The route to modernity and industrialization for many societies is tortuous and lengthy; colonialism, fascism, industrial communism, consumer capitalism — the different social and economic systems tried throughout the developing world as the ticket to modernization — have come and gone, but as societies don one system and doff another, the traces these systems leave behind linger.

 

Locals in Sainshand, Mongolia wait for the arrival of the train from Ulaan Baatar

Chasing the Ghost of Karl Marx is a collection of photo essays exploring socialist and formerly socialist nations in the developing, post-colonial world. It examines the physical, cultural, and social influence that communism, consumer capitalism, and indigenous culture have had on contemporary life in these nations. The Ghost is in an abandoned Soviet airbase now home to desert nomads, The Ghost is in a privatized Mongolian copper mine, in a Vietnamese skateboarding park, it is in city planning, in storefronts and in signage. The Ghost is in fashion, in graffiti, in music, in art.

 

Chasing the Ghost is in one sense global, and in another sense local. Globally, it seeks to find common cultural ground between disparate societies linked by the tides of world history. At the same time it seeks, locally, to highlight how this history has created unique situations in the each of the countries it has affected. This search has led Chasing the Ghost to deal with issues ranging from the repurposing of public housing for local free-market business in Mongolia to tenancy rights in rapidly-modernizing Phnom Penh.

 

This website is a sketchbook for Chasing the Ghost of Karl Marx, where images, text, organization and layouts will be published and revised on an ongoing basis. The pages accessible from the menu at the top represent more completed sections of the project with accompanying writing, while the blog section houses images-in-progress, often posted from the road. Visitors can post comments on the About/Feedback page. Currently, the project contains images from Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, with plans to add Burma in the coming months.

 

 

-JTW