Complexity means today’s policy narratives always have a shelf life: 14 counternarratives in the making (with new examples)

Migrants

–“The discourse of apocalyptic climate change-induced mass migration is now past its prime. Particularly since the early 2010s, it has been extensively critiqued (see Hartmann 2010; Bettini 2013; Piguet, Kaenzig, and Guélat 2018; Wiegel, Boas, and Warner 2019), and the majority of migration scholarship no longer expects a linear, massive and world-transforming movement of people under climate change. Indeed, an ever-rising number of studies shows the opposite is the case: that relations between climate change and human migration are often indirect, small-scale, and taking shape in context-specific ways, influenced by a host of other socio-economic and political factors. The ways in which people move in a changing climate are diverse, and typically consist of relatively local mobilities (for overviews see: Black et al. 2011a; Foresight 2011; McLeman and Gemenne 2018; Hoffmann et al. 2020; De Sherbinin 2020).”

–“Between 2010 and 2019, over 2 million people have crossed the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Europe, escaping conflicts, persecution and poverty and looking for a better chance in life (D’Angelo, 2018a; UNHCR, 2020). Since the mid-2010s, this phenomenon, widely labelled as a ‘Refugee Crisis’ (Crawley, 2016), has been at the centre of media and academic debates, with considerable attention being devoted to the humanitarian concerns over search and rescue at sea and the implementation of the European Asylum System (Crawley et al., 2017; Spijkerboer, 2016; Vassallo Paleologo, 2016). . .Specifically, the current mainstream narrative is one that looks at these people as passive components of large-scale flows, driven by conflicts, migration policies and human smuggling. Even when the personal dimension is brought to the fore, it tends to be in order to depict migrants as victims at the receiving end of external forces. Whilst there is no denying that most of those crossing the Mediterranean experience violence, exploitation and are often deprived of their freedom for considerable periods of time (Albahari, 2015; D’Angelo, 2018a), it is also important to recognize and analyse their agency as individuals, as well as the complex sets of local and transnational networks that they own, develop and use before, during and after travelling to Europe.”

Immigration controls at EU borders

–“Scholars, NGOs and journalists have paid increasing attention to how states produce and share information about migration, and which databases they use to store data about migrants’ crossings, arrivals and presence in their territory. Within this context, the metaphor of the black box has gained traction, pointing to the perceived ‘unknowability’ and opacity of the technologies used at the border, the way they operate, and the data they store. . . .

“The pitfall of the black box metaphor is twofold. Theoretically, the black box implies that there is something like a secret archive kept hidden from citizens’ view and presupposes a certain degree of coherence and consistency in states’ practices. Yet, we argue, this is often not the case: unevenness, technical glitches and states’ refusal to share data characterise police operations and border controls at the EU’s frontiers. Indeed, the metaphor of the black box restricts our ability to understand the relation between an operation’s internal workings and its outside environment, its conditions and effects. . . .”

Remittances

–“1.6% — The decline in global remittances, or money that foreign-born workers sent back to their home countries, to low- and middle-income nations last year. That drop was far less than the 20% decline projected by the World Bank early in the pandemic. Migrant remittances have become crucial economic lifelines as the recoveries of rich and poor countries diverge.”

–“Remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries in 2020 as a whole remained resilient, contrary to initial projections and despite having recorded a strong decline in Q2 2020. The latest available data shows remittances are estimated to have reached USD 540 billion in 2020, just 1.6% below the 2019 total of USD 548 billion. . .The decline was smaller than that recorded in 2009 during the global financial crisis. Fiscal measures in migrants’ host countries, including cash transfers and employment support programmes implemented in many large economies, the widespread use of remote work, and migrants’ commitment to continue providing a lifeline to families by cutting consumption or drawing on savings contributed to this better-than-expected outcome. However, there are important regional and intra-regional differences, including between the countries covered in this study.”

Welfare State

–“The economic narrative according to which the welfare state is a luxury that only growth-rich societies can afford can thus be turned upside down: the welfare state has been the backbone of developed economies in the past 70 years, especially European ones, and a major source of economic growth for more than a century. Nevertheless, the European welfare state has gradually developed a growth dependency.”

–“Results reveal no evidence for a magnet effect to the most generous welfare states in the world net of other recognized factors, and even suggest a negative influence linked to the region’s high cost of living. Migrants are instead drawn by the promise of social and political inclusion, migrating to destinations where co-ethnics have become full-fledged citizens.”

Unions

–“An often-overlooked fact about the US labor movement is that a majority of all union members live in just seven states: California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington.”

Antiguity

–“‘The standard story when I was growing up is that there really was no growth in antiquity, or the growth was so minuscule as to be irrelevant, and that what we really needed to explain was why was there no growth. Well, now it turns out we need to explain why there is growth.’ The estimated growth was really dramatic. By measures of consumption and population density, Greece in the age of Aristotle looked something like 17th century Holland, the gold standard of a pre-modern economy before the industrial revolution. ‘So it’s not just growth, it’s a lot of growth. So now that becomes the thing to explain.’”

European Union

–“[T]he Dutch case offers an important rebuke to certain nationalist critiques of the European project, either from the left or the right, in which the European Union is cast as the domain of unelected Eurocrats, who endanger national sovereignty and enforce market discipline on unwilling nation states. . .The Dutch case, in contrast, shows how a strict, rule-based form of austerity policy was first the product of a largely domestic transformation, which was then transposed to the European level. It dovetails with interpretations of European political culture as a composite, defined more by the particular trajectories, ideas and interests of different national elites rather than a single supranational logic”.

–“This article analyses the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) to challenge interpretations of neoliberalism as an international project. The fiscal rules of the SGP are a paradigmatic example of how neoliberalism uses constitutional techniques to put limits on national democracy. These rules, however, have never worked as intended with adherence having been the exception rather than the norm. Although scholars readily admit neoliberal rules misfire in practice, conceptualisations of neoliberalism have remained largely unscathed. In contrast, this article argues that techniques of budgetary planning have had a more crucial impact on neoliberal fiscal governance than legal rules. In the case of the SGP, supranational actors have been empowered not by their capacity to put constitutional limits on public expenditure, but by analysing and intervening in the purposes and uses of public finance through managerial techniques of budgetary planning. In making this argument, I argue that neoliberal rules matter to international fiscal governance only through their failure.”

US Civil War

–“These findings potentially also shed light on why the South went to war: the sharpening inequality between free southerners was increasingly politically untenable; for slavery and yeoman farming to co-exist, territorial expansion was required. Indeed, Williams (2010) argues that one of the reasons southern states seceded from the Union and went to war was that slaveholders realized that increasing inequality among whites threatened their position of political authority. They feared the possible sharpening of these inequalities thanks to the new federal government’s opposition to slavery’s expansion, constraints that could only be overcoming by seceding from the Union.”

Uncertainty and Inequality

–“By using a battery of structural vector autoregression (SVAR) models, we show that macroeconomic uncertainty shocks lead to lower inequality in income, earnings, and consumption. A one standard deviation uncertainty shock reduces the Gini coefficient for income after one and a half years, reaching a trough of 0.5% within 4 years. Consumption inequality drops faster, after only two quarters from the shock, while it reaches its maximum decline of 0.6% in 2 years. The response of the wage measure is also negative. It takes 4 years for the Gini of gross wage to reach its maximum drop of −0.25%. The response of all measures to the shock is negative, significant, and persistent for a long time.”

Regional Climate Change

–“Surprisingly, we find that an intra-annual temperature volatility shock produces adverse effects on aggregate productivity in more developed regions (i.e., Europe and North America). In contrast, there are no significant evidence of temperature variability affecting productivity growth in South America and Africa. Unexpected changes in intra-annual temperature volatility come instead with good news in Asia.”

Urban Poor

–“Many people seemed to have no clue where most of the poor people in the [Seattle] metro actually lived: in the suburbs. So their political imaginary just didn’t include these places. They had this fantasy version of the city inherited from the New Left, with its emphasis on “inner city” organizing within distinct ethnic enclaves. In this American leftist imaginary “the suburbs” means white people, even though in Seattle it’s just the opposite: the inner city is more white than the suburbs.”

Petrochemicals

–“Today, it is almost impossible to identify an area of life that has not been radically transformed by the presence of petrochemicals. Whether as feedstocks for manufacture and agriculture, the primary ingredients of construction materials, cleaning products and clothing or the packaging that makes transport, storage and retail possible—all aspects of our social being are bound to a seemingly unlimited supply of cheap and readily disposable petrochemicals. Synthetic materials derived from petroleum have come to define the essential condition of life itself; simultaneously, they have become normalized as natural parts of our daily existence. This paradox must be fully confronted if we are to move beyond oil.”

Geoengineering

–“A central political consequence – acknowledged in the report, but not explicitly addressed in the recommendations – is that more research, especially research designed to promote solar geoengineering activities, might raise expectations about solar geoengineering which could discourage emissions reductions and the societal transformation away from fossil fuels. This risk is termed ‘mitigation deterrence’ (McLaren 2016), and arises through political, social and economic tradeoffs. The risk of mitigation deterrence is demonstrated acutely by the increased interest in solar geoengineering among those opposed to investing in mitigation and those resisting efforts to reduce fossil fuel reliance (Ellison 2018).”

Child Labor and Criminal Behavior

–First, as the data [from three countries] have demonstrated, labor, and the need for children to work, is the predominant lens through which young people and the adults that surround them conceptualize children’s engagement with gangs and organized crime. This was in contrast to the other standpoints that permeate discourse. Labeling the children as gang members is a poor reflection of their drivers of involvement in crime and is likely to stigmatize children engaged in a plight to ensure their own survival. Alternatively, the young people were not child soldiers nor were they victims or perpetrators of trafficking or slavery.

“A victim lens is also problematic in this context. The relationship between young people and organized crime is complex and multifaceted. Young people are victims of acute marginalization, poverty and violence but they do have some agency over their decision making. The data from all studies illustrated how gangs offer young people ways to earn an income but they also provide social mobility, ‘social protection’ (Atkinson- Sheppard, 2017) and ‘street capital.’ In some instances, criminal groups offer young people ways to earn ‘quick and easy money.’ Thus, the young people are not devoid of agency, but their decision making should be considered within the context of restricted and bounded lives.”

Sources. These are verbatim extracts from publications, mapeer-reviewed. If your interest has been piqued, citations are available on request.

Marginal?

When I first became interested in livestock herders in Africa, I was told they lived on marginal lands. Fifty years later the more common refrain is these herders are marginalized–marginalized in politics, by the economy, and now because of the climate emergency.

I hate that word, marginal.

Since the academic study of pastoralism appears to be stuck with its use and abuse, may I suggest a different, more positive analogy:

The illuminators [of medieval manuscripts] enriched the margins of the page, conventionally an empty space, with figurative, vegetal or abstract elements. Sometimes the marginal images were merely decorative, at other times they functioned rather like visual footnotes or sidebars, as serious or comic commentaries on the text. . .

Jed Perl (2021). Authority and Freedom. Alfred A. Knopf: New York

In short, pastoralists continue to illuminate to our advantage what others persist texting as “the margins.”

Entries compiled for “Pastoralists and Pastoralisms” (added entries)

Table of contents:

  • Pastoralisms as a global infrastructure
  • Climate justice?
  • It makes a difference for policy and management when describing pastoralism in terms of capitalism and not as a global infrastructure
  • Resilience, disaster, poverty and capitalism: different takes on pastoralism
  • Two alternative takes on recent pastoralist development narratives
  • “The elephant in the room at Cop27 is the cow” (another example of environmental livestock-tarring)
  • Drylands, remittances and the twelve rules for radicals
  • Shackle analysis: a pastoralist example
  • Recasting “land-use conflicts” involving pastoralists
  • The methodological challenge of interconnected granularity in representing pastoralists and pastoralisms
  • An authoritative website for real-time decisionmaking involving pastoralists
  • Marginal?
  • Pastoralism on the offense, not just defended

Pastoralisms as a global infrastructure

I

If you think stabilization and expansion of herder outputs and outcomes–in particular household livelihoods–are central to pastoralism, then there are varieties of pastoralism. This is largely because efforts to achieve stable and expanding livelihoods vary with the critical infrastructures upon which they depend for their livestock.

Some pastoralisms depend on roads for herd transport. Others rely from time to time on helicopters. Veterinary health infrastructures have also been instrumental in various ways and it’s a commonplace to say pastoralists depend upon and configure around diverse market infrastructures differently. Migration infrastructure for those leaving their herder households and remittance infrastructures for the migrants to send income back to those households are as well patently various as they are patently evident.

The list continues, but the gist remains: Critical infrastructures do not just empirically affect pastoralist behavior; pastoralism are majorly defined through their different reliances on them.

–I’ve tried, however, to go further and make the case the varieties of pastoralism themselves should be seen a global infrastructure:

[P]astoralist systems are, in respects that matter, infrastructural; and since pastoralists and their systems are found worldwide, so too is pastoralism a global infrastructure, and importantly so. . .Pastoralist systems tender the world a key critical service (and have been doing so for a very long time): they, like other globalised/globalising infrastructures, seek to increase process variance in the face of high input variance to achieve low and stable output variance. More, they do so by managing non-measurable uncertainties well beyond the capabilities of formal risk methodologies and in the face of increasing and diversified input variabilities while still facing demands for sustained livelihoods. In this counternarrative, that key service is best understood as foundational to the world economy in times of great uncertainty and complexity.

https://steps-centre.org/publication/a-new-policy-narrative-for-pastoralism/

As with other major globalized or globalizing infrastructures, pastoralist systems seek to increase real-time management strategies and options in the face of often unpredictable or uncontrollable inputs so as to achieve low and stable outputs or outcomes nonetheless. Task demands are to be matched, at least in real time, by resource capabilities, which if the match occurs demonstrates requisite variety (i.e., the principle that in complex environments it takes varied resources to manage varied task demands).

II

There’s an extension developed in this entry, but its point can be misinterpreted as agreeing with those who see pastoralism-in-CRISIS–that is, under attack and disappearing. Of course, such must be happening in some places (there being so many pastoralists globally and at so many different sites). But I do not see how any declension narrative can take center-place as the starting point in a varieties of pastoralism perspective.

–Start this way: Think of an infrastructure’s operations across an entire cycle: normal operations (fluctuations within formal or informal bandwidths), disrupted operations (temporary loss of system services), failed operations (indefinite loss of service along with destruction of assets), and response & recovery operations to a new normal (if there is to be one). Just as disrupted operations entail timely but not always successful restoration efforts back to normal operations, failed operations entail immediate emergency responses directed to longer-term system recovery (no guarantees here as well).

Yet here is the pastoralist literature with which I am familiar often describing systems that have failed and disappeared or are failing and threatened with more or less extinction. In contrast, from a pastoralism-as-infrastructure perspective, to end an infrastructure’s cycle of operations at system failure is to stop too early and end up in exaggeration.

How so? When it comes to a large-scale infrastructure, you have to go from failure onto to describe follow-on emergency response, which can well include first steps for recovery (e.g., damage assessments and solicitation of longer-term aid). Emergency response is a really-existing phase of operations that requires analysis precisely because the infrastructure has not been stopped in its tracks.

(In case it needs saying, there are many fine-grained analyses of pastoralist systems under stress, but rarely–I stand to be corrected–within the frame of an infrastructure’s cycle of operations.)

III

So what?

Return to the infrastructures key to configuring varieties of pastoralism: the migration infrastructure, the veterinary health infrastructure, the road transport infrastructure, the water points infrastructure, the livestock market and communications infrastructures, the urban arrival (employment) infrastructures for migrants from herder households, and the infrastructure for–well, the list goes on, doesn’t it?

From the perspective of pastoralism-as-infrastructure however, the preceding separate infrastructures are part and parcel of the process variance (the requisite variety) of those varieties of pastoralism. Segments of these specific infrastructures are activated or relied upon differently and at different points in the whole cycle of pastoralist operations.

Yes, critical infrastructures that underlie pastoralisms are under threat and in some cases the physical systems are very fragile or already extinct. But pastoralisms, from this infrastructure perspective, don’t wither away unless their process variance withers. This is to ask: What about the other empirically demonstrated ways to graze, herd, be im/mobile, or “be in the market,” case by case? This is not optimism or an eternal promise of requisite variety. It is being realistic.

–Again, so what? Three quick points follow from the infrastructure perspective:

First, if it is the entire cycle of pastoralist operations that is our point of departure, we should be able to investigate how routine and non-routine repairs are undertaken as part of normal operations. However, when was the last time you read about “repairing this or that pastoralist system or subsystem”? In this view, remittances back to the herder household provide the means to add management options at the site, but they also seek to repair dryland (sub-)systems that have lost labor and expertise.

Second, the infrastructure perspective suggests that instead of talking about environmental risks associated with pastoralisms (e.g., the climate risks of land degradation and methane production), we should be comparing the environmental footprints produced by the respective global infrastructures (e.g., roads globally, electricity globally, dams globally, and so on). Obviously, because pastoralisms rely on these other infrastructures, the respective footprints overlap. But the physical damage done to the environment by roads, dams, and power plants are well documented and extend far beyond pastoralist usage.

Third, much is rightly being made about the global financialization of important livelihood sectors, such as agriculture. A. major part of the critique is that increased financial flows are being diverted from the real economy investments for productive sectors into a myriad of financialized investment instruments (thereby adding to wealth disparities), e.g.,

Since the 2000s, although low US interest rates combined with no (or minimal) capital controls have dramatically increased short-term capital inflows into developing and emerging countries, this has not been channelled into productive real sector investments. Instead, these inflows have gone mainly into financial investments, which although profitable in the short term, do not necessarily increase long-run productive capacity.

Dafe, F., S. B. Hager, N. Naqvi, and L. Wansleben (2022) [see Principal Sources below]

That said, some of the investments must have been in productive sectors and indeed into livestock and mixed livelihood production in drylands (at least if the level of analysis is truly global). How much has been invested in “long-run productive capacity” is less the issue than that pastoralisms are themselves the infrastructure without which there would be no “real economy” there. In this way, wealth disparities created in the real economy must be differentiated from wealth disparities created through the accumulation of financial capital, right?

To sum up, my argument is that pastoralism-as-infrastructure is no more withering away than–as long prophesied–the state has withered away in the last century and half.

Climate justice?

I

Three decades ago, Jon Elster wrote Local Justice: How Institutions Allocate Scarce Goods and Necessary Burdens (1992, Russell Sage Foundation: New York). It’s of interest today because one of its enduring points has been that not only can local justice systems lead to global injustice, global justice systems can lead to local injustices. I end with a pastoralism illustration.

First, his definitions:

Local justice can be contrasted with global justice. Roughly speaking, globally redistributive policies are characterized by three features. First, they are designed centrally, at the level of the national government. Second, they are intended to compensate people for various sorts of bad luck, resulting from the possession of ’morally arbitrary properties.’ Third, they typically take the form of cash transfers [e.g., think reparations]. Principles of local justice differ on all three counts. They are designed by relatively autonomous institutions which, although they may be constrained by guidelines laid down by the center, have some autonomy to design and implement their preferred scheme. Also, they are not compensatory, or only partially so. A scheme for allocating scarce medical resources may compensate patients for bad medical luck, but not for other kinds of bad luck (including the bad luck of being turned down for another scarce good). Finally, local justice concerns allocation in kind of goods (and burdens), not of money.

Elster (1992, p4)

The semi-autonomous institutions are local in three senses: arena, country and locality. Different arenas, such as organ transplantation, college admissions and job layoffs, follow different principles: “Need is central in allocating organs for transplantation, merit in admitting students to college and seniority in selecting workers for layoffs” in the US. Allocative principles vary by country as well: “In many European countries, need (as measured by number of family dependents) can be a factor in deciding which workers to lay off”. Lastly, allocative principles can also vary by locality within the same country or arena, as with the case of local transplantation centers in the US.

In short, complexity in local justice systems comes not just from the fact that the goods are scarce, heterogeneous and in kind and that the sites of allocation may well be local in multiple senses. Local justice systems vary also because principles are tied to complex (and not always certain) arrays of criteria, mechanisms, procedures, and schemes.

II

Local justice systems have clear implications. Not only are they not designed to compensate for global injustices, they can actually lead to those injustices:

From childhood to old age, [the individual] encounters a succession of institutions, each of which has the power to give or deny him some scarce good. In some cases the cumulative impact of these decisions may be grossly unfair. We can easily imagine an individual who through sheer bad luck is chosen for all the necessary burdens and denied all the scarce goods, because in each case he is just below the cutoff point of selection. To my knowledge this source of injustice has not been recognized so far…. Those who are entrusted with the task of allocating a scarce good rarely if ever evaluate recipients in the light of their past successes or failures in receiving other goods. Local justice is largely noncompensatory. There is no mechanism of redress across allocative spheres….

[B]y the nature of chance events, some individuals will miss every train: they are turned down for medical school, chosen by the draft lottery, laid off by the firm in a recession, and refused scarce medical resources; in addition, their spouse develops cancer, their stocks become worthless, and their neighborhood is chosen for a toxic waste dump. It is neither desirable nor possible to create a mechanism of redress to compensate all forms of cumulative bad luck. For one thing, the problems of moral hazard would be immense [i.e. if people knew they were going to be compensated for whatever happened to them, they could take more risks and thereby incur more harm]. For another, the machinery of administering redress for bad luck would be hopelessly complex and costly.

(Ibid 133-4)

If so, local justice clearly can lead to global injustice.

III

But just as clearly from a local justice perspective, the global justice promised in, say, climate justice (e.g., via reparations), leads to local injustices, when the former is implemented uniformly over an otherwise differentiated landscape. One thinks immediately of how to define an “extreme event” that triggers automatic debt relief.

To expand, the more uniform the application of climate justice policies, the greater the local pressure for suitably heterogeneous applications, if not alternatives. But the more heterogeneous on the ground, the greater the chance of global injustice arising from lack of coordination and cross-learning on the ground.

In this way, just as it is not possible for local justice systems to compensate for the global injustices they create, so too it may well not be possible for global justice systems to compensate for the local injustices they create, at least in any timely way or coverage.

IV

So what? For one thing, the continued insistence that global climate justice involves money transfers (as distinct from in-kind compensation typical of local justice systems) ends up further monetarizing a global environment that local systems take to be quite otherwise.

In so doing and arguably much more important, the insistence obscures the huge importance of in-kind compensations at the local level. Think here of the livestock sharing systems (e.g., khlata in Tunisia and mafisa in Botswana). These are local justice systems irrespective of the livestock involved being methane producers from the global climate perspective. Indeed, I can’t think of a better example of global climate justice at odds with local justice systems, globally.

It makes a difference for policy and management when describing pastoralism in terms of capitalism and not as a global infrastructure

I

Please take the time to read the following excerpt from a very fine study by Marty et al (2022) on Maasai pastoralists in contemporary southern Kenya:

As an adaptation process, diversification brings new opportunities for some people, but can also displace risks and bring new exposures for others, acting as ‘a socially stratifying capitalist fix providing new avenues for accumulation and market penetration’, benefiting a small elite (Mikulewicz 2021, 424)’. . . .

Our results also align with recent research evidencing the increased importance of capital relations for grazing access in the context of changing land use across Kajiado (Jeppesen and Hassan 2022), which is likely to further accentuate processes of social differentiation and associated class formation dynamics. . . .

Our findings suggest that diversification tends to promote more individualized and market-based adaptation strategies, but that the drivers and ramifications of increased integration into capitalist production systems and renegotiation of production relations are complex and dynamic. Differentiated engagements with diversification in pastoral areas are not only related to changing material conditions, but also linked to ‘intangible’ dimensions, such as changing norms and values. New social differentiations emerge through the increased emphasis placed on formal education and how knowledge influences one’s position within the community and beyond (e.g. the relation to state or non-governmental actors). At the same time, other entrenched markers of differentiation persist and are crystalized through exclusionary decision-making processes and established roles, perhaps most notably gendered discriminations. The research findings thus underscore the need for climate change adaptation planning in agrarian environments to extend beyond the dominant technical focus (Eriksen, Nightingale, and Eakin 2015), by showing how adaptation processes in pastoral environments are closely intertwined within rapidly evolving socio-political and economic transformations.

Edwige Marty, Renee Bullock, Matthew Cashmore, Todd Crane & Siri Eriksen (2022): Adapting to climate change among transitioning Maasai pastoralists in southern Kenya: an intersectional analysis of differentiated abilities to benefit from diversification processes., The Journal of Peasant Studies, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2022.2121918

I’ve left the original references in to indicate that the authors are not alone in their views–which to be clear from the outset I believe to be true as far as they go.

I want however to go further and take up the authors’ own suggestion that the adaptation processes be studied in terms of how they are now “closely intertwined within rapidly evolving socio-political and economic transformations”.

II

Let’s look at the history behind those “socio-political and economic transformations.”

Since there are many historians to choose from, allow me to take the most recent one I’ve read: Capitalism: The story behind the word, by historian of ideas, Michael Sonenscher (2022, Princeton University Press).

I believe he is well-regarded, but that doesn’t matter for this entry: There are plenty of histories of capitalist relations, any number of which usefully complicate the above quotes and indeed compel us to go further.

–Sonenscher starts by underscoring that the development of commercial societies preceded the development of capitalism. More, when the two histories, which do get intertwined later on, are distinguished from the get-go, it becomes altogether clear that commercial societies and capitalist societies were characterized by different features and path dependencies.

Most notably, commercial societies had markets induced by divisions of labor that preceded capitalist class formation. Indeed, terminology introduce after that of “commercial societies”, like “primitive accumulation,” have served to misdirect analysts away from the high degree of economic differentiation on and specialization in those societies–again prior to very introduction of capitalist relations for financing war and debt.

–Hopefully, some readers recognize that this emphasis on trade and markets, along with a division of labor that was differentiated and specialized in terms of trade routes and transactions, also characterized significant pastoralist societies well prior to the commonly narrated version of 18th – 19th century introduction of (Western) capitalism.

III

–So what? So what if these earlier commercial societies had markets and transactions for goods and services?

After all, the point underscored in the above quotes and many like them is that those earlier formations have long been superseded by capitalist relations and their accentuation/extension into what are no longer and must now be considered “former pastoralist societies.”

Really? Are we sure about that?

I can well believe processes the authors describe are going on in Kajiado, elsewhere in East Africa, and elsewhere in Africa and beyond.

What I can’t believe is that pastoralists are colonized everywhere by capitalism. You mean all (or even most?) of these people Wikipedia record are integrated in capitalist relations: “As of 2019, between 200 million and 500 million people globally practised pastoralism, and 75% of all countries had pastoral communities.”

–There are too many different types of livestock production systems, too many regional differences in the impacts of the climate emergency, too many different path dependencies historically and now into the Anthropocene to deny the following:

Just as researchers now talk about the varieties of capitalism, there all along were varieties of commercial societies, and among that latter were and still are pastoralist systems with their evolving–that is, with less ruptured than many think–divisions of labor, differentiations and specializations.

–But, again, so what? I have argued that pastoralisms are a global critical infrastructure. I now argue they have been one for a very, very long time in terms of their differentiation and specialization of services and opportunities to advance and change.

Resilience, disaster, poverty and capitalism: different takes on pastoralism

The topic here is herders of livestock primarily in the African rangelands. Below are three different redescriptions of herders and their systems: it’s resiliences, not just resilience; disasters-averted are under-recognized; and notions of poverty, capitalism and borders need serious revisiting as well.

  1. Resilience is a plural noun

–The opposite of the coping herder, who can only react to external shocks, is the resilient herder, who bounces back. But is that true? Both occur at the individual level, and the opposite of the individual is the collective (think: “team situational awareness”), not a different individual with different behavior.

We observed reliability professionals in critical infrastructures undertaking four types of resilience at their system level, each varying by stage of system operations:

Table 1. Different Types of System Resilience

  • Reliability professionals adjusting back to within de jure or de facto bandwidths to continue normal operations (precursor resilience);
  • Restoration from disrupted operations (temporary loss of service) back to normal operations by reliability professionals (restoration resilience);
  • Immediate emergency response (its own kind of resilience) after system failure but often involving others different from system’s reliability professionals; and
  • Recovery of the system to a new normal by reliability professionals along with others (recovery resilience)

Resilience this way is a set of options, processes and strategies undertaken by the system’s real-time managers and tied to the state of system operations in which they find themselves. Resilience differs depending on whether the large sociotechnical system is in normal operations versus disrupted operations versus failed operations versus recovered operations. (Think of pastoralist systems here as critical infrastructure.)

Resilience, as such, is not a single property of the system to be turned on or off as and when needed. Nor is it, as a system feature, reducible to anything like individual “resilient” herders, though such herders exist.

–So what when it comes to pastoralists? What you take to be the loss of the herd, a failure in pastoralist operations that you say comes inevitably with drought, may actually be perceived and treated by pastoralists themselves as a temporary disruption after which operations are to be restored. While you, the outsider, can say their “temporary” really isn’t temporary these days, it is their definition of “temporary” that matters when it comes to their real-time reliability.

To return to Table 1, herder systems that maintain normal operations are apt to demonstrate what we call precursor resilience. Normal doesn’t mean what happens when there are no shocks to the system. Shocks happen all the time, and normal operations are all about responding to them in such a way as to ensure they don’t lead to temporary system disruption or outright system failure. Formally, the precursors of disruption and failure are managed for, and reliably so. Shifting from one watering point, when an interfering problem arises there, to another just as good or within a range of good-enough is one such strategy. Labelling this, “coping,” seriously misrepresents the active system management going on.

Pastoralist systems can and do experience temporary stoppages in their service provision—raiders seize livestock, remittances don’t arrive, off-take of livestock products is interrupted, lightning triggers a veldt fire—and here the efforts at restoring conditions back to normal is better termed restoration resilience. Access to alternative feed stocks or sources of livelihood may be required in the absence of grazing and watering fallbacks normally available.

So too resilience as a response to shocks looks very different by way of management strategies when the shocks lead to system failure and recovery from that failure. In these circumstances, an array of outside, inter-organizational resources and personnel—public, private, NGO, humanitarian—are required in addition to the resources of the pastoralist herders. These recovery arrangements and resources are unlike anything marshaled by way of precursor or restoration resiliencies within the herder communities themselves.

–There is nothing predetermined in the Table 1 sequence. Nothing says it is inevitable that the failed system recovers to a new normal (indeed the probability of system failure in recovery can be higher than in normal operations). It is crucial, nevertheless, to distinguish recovery from any new normal. To outsiders, it may look like some of today’s pastoralist systems are in unending recovery, constantly trying to catch up with one drought or disaster after another. The reality may be that the system is already at a new normal, operating with a very different combination of options, strategies and resources than before.

–If you think of resilience in a pastoralist system as “the system’s capability in the face of its high reliability mandates to withstand the downsides of uncertainty and complexity as well as exploit the upsides of new possibilities and opportunities that emerge in real time,” then they are able to do so because of being capable to undertake the different types of resiliencies listed here, contingent on the stage of operations herders as a collectivity find themselves.

Or to put the key point from the other direction, a system demonstrating precursor resilience, restoration resilience, emergency response coordination and recovery resilience is the kind of system better able to withstand the downsides of shocks and uncertainty and exploit their upsides. Here too, nothing predetermines that every pastoralist system will exhibit all four resiliencies, if and when their states of operation change.

–To summarize, any notion that resilience is a single property or has a dominant definition or is there/not there or is best exemplified at the individual level is incorrect and misleading when the system is the unit and level of analysis in pastoralism.

2. Disaster-averted is central to pastoralist development

–My argument is that if crises averted by pastoralists were identified and more differentiated, we’d better understand how far short of a full picture is equating their real time to the chronic crises of inequality, market failure, precarity and such.

To ignore disasters-averted has an analogy with other infrastructure reliability professionals. It is to act as if the lives, assets and millions in wealth saved each day doesn’t matter when real-time control room operators of critical infrastructures prevent disasters from happening that would have happened otherwise. Why? Because we are told that ultimately what matters far more are the infrastructure disasters of modernization, late capitalism, and environmental collapse destructive of everything in their path.

Even where the latter is true, that truth must be pushed further to incorporate the importance of disasters-averted-now. Disaster averted matters to herders precisely because herders actively dread specific disasters, whatever the root causes.

The implications for pastoralist development end up being major—not least when it comes to “pastoralist elites,” as seen in a moment.

–Of course, inequality, marketization, commodification, precarity and other related processes matter for pastoralists and others. The same for modernization, late capitalism, global environmental destruction, and the climate emergency. But they matter when differentiated and better specified in terms of their “with respect to.” As one socialist critic said of a Marxist critic, such phenomena are “not even specific enough to be wrong”.

Just what is marketization with respect to in your case? Smallstock? Mechanized transportation? Alpine grazing? Is it in terms of migrant herders here rather than there, or with respect to other types of livestock or grazing conditions? How do the broader processes collapsed under “marketization” get redefined by the very different with-respect-to’s?

Claiming over-arching explanations are in fact empirical generalizations made across complex cases too often voids the diversity of responses and emerging practices of importance for policy and management that are modified case by case. Most important, appeals to generalized processes or state conditions diminish the centrality of disasters averted through diverse actions of diverse herders. This diminishment leaves us assuming that marketization, commodification, precarity. . .are the chronic crises of real time for herder or farmer. They, we are to assume, take up most of the time that really matters to pastoralists.

But the latter is the case only if the with-respect-to scenarios demonstrate how these broad processes preoccupy real time because herders have failed to avert dreaded events altogether.

–Let me give an example. Andrew Barry, British sociologist, reports a finding in his article, “What is an environmental problem?,” from his research in Georgia:

A community liaison officer, working for an oil company, introduced me to a villager who had managed to stop the movement of pipeline construction vehicles near her mountain village in the lesser Caucasus. The construction of the pipeline, she told us in conversation, would prevent her moving livestock between two areas of pastureland. Her protest, which was the first she had ever been involved in, was not recorded in any official or public documents.

Barry found this to be a surprising research event (his terms) and went on to explain at length (internal citations deleted) that

my conversation with the villager pointed to the importance of a localized problem, the impact of the pipeline on her livelihood and that of other villagers, and her consequent direct action, none of which is recorded or made public. This was one of many small, fragmentary indicators that alerted me to the prevalence and significance of direct action by villagers across Georgia in the period of pipeline construction, actions that were generally not accorded significance in published documents, and that were certainly not traceable on the internet. . .At the same time, the mediation of the Georgian company liaison officer who introduced me to the villager was one indicator of the complexity of the relations between the local population, the oil company, and the company’s subcontractors. . .

I believe the phrases, “managed to stop,” “would prevent her moving livestock,” “a localized problem,” “consequent direct action,” “generally not accorded significance,” and “the complexity of the relations” are the core to understanding that disasters-averted remain very real, even if not identified, let alone publicized, by outsiders preoccupied with what hasn’t been averted.

Should it need saying, some with-respect-to scenarios do specify how such phrases result from an ongoing interaction and dialectic between the wider processes and local particularities. I’d hope, though, you’d want to see details behind any such assertion first.

–So what? How does the argued importance of disasters-averted compel rethinking pastoralist development? One example will have to suffice: the need to recast “pastoralist elites.”

I recently read a fine piece mentioning today’s Pokot elites and Turkana elders in Kenya. When I was there in the early 1980s, they were neither elderly nor elites all. I’m also pretty sure had I interviewed some of them at that time I’d have considered them “poor pastoralists.”

My question then: Under what conditions do pastoralists, initially poor but today better off, become elites in the negative sense familiar to the critics of elites? The answer is important because an over-arching development aim of the 1980s arid and semi-arid lands programs in Kenya was to assist then-poor pastoralists to become better-off.

My own answer to the preceding question would now focus on the disasters averted over time by pastoralists, both those who are today’s elites and those who aren’t. It seems to me essential to establish if equally (resource-) poor pastoralists nonetheless differentiated themselves over time in terms of how they averted disasters that would have befell them had they not managed the ways they did.

Now, of course, some of the poor pastoralists I met in the early 1980s may have been more advantaged than I realized. Of course, I could have been incorrect in identifying them as “poor pastoralists.” Even so, the refocusing on disasters-averted over time holds for those who were not advantaged then but are so now.

Which leads me to the question which should be obvious to any reader: Since when are researchers to decide that time stops sufficiently in a study period to certify who among herders are advantaged going forward, let alone what are the metrics for determining such? When did the development narrative become “poor herders and farmers must advance at the same rate or even faster than advantaged ones?”

3. Pastoralist poverty (precarity) and cost-shifting capitalism

Poverty or precarity

I want to suggest that applicability of pastoralist strategies/perspectives/approaches now extends to richer-country settings because the goalposts for poverty reduction—not necessarily for inequality—have changed and are changing.

Here’s an extended quote from an article on North/South inequality by sociologist, Göran Therborn. His argument about the changing levels of poverty in the midst of inequalities is a way we might want to better think about what pastoralisms bring to (other) modern societies:

The problem [the decline of extreme poverty in the South is leading to inequality increases comparable to those of the North] is that poverty, unlike survival, is always relative, and after leaving one level of poverty, you may enter another one. In a world of growing intra-national inequality, this is most likely to happen to a large proportion of the population. The progress of living conditions which has taken place in recent decades is socially very important. However, it does not make up a historical turning-point, like the increase of inequality in the Global North and the decline of international and global household inequality. ‘Poverty’ has not been abolished in the USA or anywhere in Europe, nor is relative poverty being abolished in China. Living conditions in China have improved tremendously in the past decades, but the human goalposts are moving with socio-economic development. . . .

More formally, the relatively-poor in both poorer and in richer nations remain, but they are becoming “closer-alike” in their respective precarities. This is happening—again, it’s a hypothesis—even as inequality within countries (intra-national) persists or is increasing.

Where so, I’m suggesting that some—not all or only—pastoralists may be better able than ever before to have something to say to others—some but not all—who have never been as precarious as now—whatever the absolute differences between the two groups in terms of surviving their respect inequalities.

The role of cost-shifting capitalism

Think of capitalism as the shifting of costs of production and consumption from those who created the costs to those who didn’t. I’m not saying that cost-shifting can’t be found in other ways of life nor that modern capitalism isn’t other things as well. Cost-shifting, however, is central when I talk about pastoralists.

Start with the cost-shifting we know. Costs are shifted from the public sector to private or individual sources; profits made in high-tax jurisdictions are shifted to lower-tax ones; other taxes are avoided or evaded, thereby shifting government budgets; and “unintended” externalities are treated as correctible (by taxes, regulation, or “risk-shifting”) rather than as the huge costs shifted onto others of entrenched market activities, which are anything but unintended or unexceptional.

Cost-shifting means economic agents gain by imposing losses on others, and they gain more, the more the costs are shifted.

The upshot for pastoralists: If you want to say that pastoralists, like most everyone else, are imbricated in cost-shifting capitalism, I agree. What needs to be added, and importantly so, is that pastoralist cost-shifting differs from that of others just described—and the differences matter.

Case-in-point: Much has been made of the declining share of labor relative to capital in the incomes of advanced economies over the last decades. More, wages and productivity have become increasingly decoupled, i.e., a good deal of productivity’s contribution has shifted to capital’s share. These changes are often attributed to labor-substituting (“labor-saving”) technologies via the spread of neoliberal globalization.

Pastoralist systems are of course part of that globalization, but have the technologies been more labor-augmenting (“labor-intensive”), at least in some systems? All the lorries ferrying livestock and supplies, all the cellphones used in real time (not just for price-and-market monitoring but for mediating inter-group conflicts as well)—have they advanced labor’s share relative to capital in pastoralist incomes, broadly writ? Yes, the costs of production are shifting through these innovations, but to the disadvantage of labor?

For me, these and like questions deserve asking when capitalism takes center-stage in discussions of its multiple effects on pastoralist behavior.

Two alternative takes on recent pastoralist development narratives

I

–My starting point is a feature of the avant-garde less commented upon, but central to its role in a wider society. Says a French artist, “It is the ontology of avant-gardes to fail in order for them to reinvent themselves.” Reinventing themselves is something avant-gardes do all the time and better than others. It’s their métier.

Just as avant-gardes are ahead of their time, so too have actually-existing pastoralist practices and behaviors been in advance of two dominant development narratives concerning them: namely, the older tragedy of the commons (ToC) and the later common property resource (CPR) management.

(My own view is that a continuing preoccupation with the CPR and ToC development narratives should be treated as the key indicator of a limited ability to keep up with contemporary pastoralisms.)

Being ahead of the development narratives has for pastoralists both the downsides and upsides of avant-gardes, e.g.:

Downside: Really-existing pastoralist behavior—like that of an avant-garde—has never stopped institutions—in this case, economics and ecology—from preoccupations with reduced-form narratives like the ToC and CPR.

Upside: Actual behavior and knowledge of avant-gardes can and do diffuse into the wider society, though lagged and unevenly. For example, note how old-fashioned are the dirigiste terms of “livestock, land and labor” as factors of production in describing pastoralist developments. It’s closer to the truth to say they are in fact “real-time processes and practices for increasing options and strategies to respond to unpredictable or uncontrollable shocks across time and place…”

–So what?

The question is not only, “What replaces current dominant narratives for the purposes of better pastoralist development?,” but: “How do we catch up with and keep abreast of what pastoralists are actually doing?”

But why spend the time on catching up?

To complete the avant-garde analogy, I’m suggesting that some—not all or only—pastoralists may be better able than before to have something to say to others—some but not all—who have never been as precarious as now—whatever the absolute differences between the two groups in terms of surviving their respect inequalities.

II

–It isn’t just that pastoralist households have off-site activities with household members elsewhere who contribute from there to on-site pastoralist activities. Rather: It’s more appropriate to say that some pastoralisms are done off-site, just as what was once platform trading on the floor of a stock exchange is now done elsewhere on different platforms (e.g., the Hong Kong Stock Exchange).

Two-way analogies also mean extra-care is needed to reflect the fuller set of actually-existing practices of pastoralists:

• Not everyone would agree that pastoralist better practices include all those unofficial (read: clandestine) networks that sub-Saharan migrants to Europe and elsewhere rely on to resist surveillance and capture.

• The practices include encrypted communications, secret locations and multiplicity of efforts to counter the informatics of domination and the technologies of coercion—the latter of great concern to many other residents in Europe as well.

• Note the preceding practices fit in—uncomfortably—with the reduced form narratives of expert policy types in Africa that pastoralists are often “outside the state’s control” there.

• The above mean, among other things, that the remittance-sending household member is no more at the geographical periphery of a network whose center is an African rangeland than was Prince von Metternich in the center of Europe when he said, “Asia begins at the Landstraße” (the district outskirts of Vienna closest to the Balkans).

You can stipulate all you want that Africa ends there and Europe begins here, but good luck in making that stick for pastoralist development policies!

“The elephant in the room at Cop27 is the cow”* (another example of environmental livestock-tarring)

–A modest proposal:

Assume livestock are toxic weapons that must be renounced in the name of climate change. Like nuclear weapons, they pose such a global threat that nations sign the Livestock Non-Proliferation Treaty (LNPT). It’s to rollback, relinquish or abolish livestock, analogous to the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty.

How then would the LNPT be implemented, i.e., what are the ways to reduce these toxic stockpiles of dangerous animals?

If the history of the nuclear proliferation treaty is our guide, the livestock elimination focus quickly becomes the feasibility and desirability of particular elimination scenarios. Scenarios in the plural because context matters, e.g., the way South Africa renounced nuclear weapons could not be the same ways Belarus and Ukraine relinquished them, etc.

–So assume livestock elimination scenarios are just as differentiated. We would expect reductions in different types of intensive livestock production to be among the first priority scenarios under LNPT. After that, extensive livestock systems would be expected to have different rollback scenarios as well. For example, we would expect livestock to remain where they have proven climate-positive impacts: Livestock are shown also to promote biodiversity, and/or serve as better fire management, and/or establish food sovereignty, and/or enable off-rangeland employment of those who would have herded livestock instead, etc.

In other words, we would expect–well, how to put this obvious fact?–livestock scenarios that are already found empirically widespread.

–Which raises the important question: Wouldn’t the LNPT put us right back to where we are anyway with respect to livestock? What’s the use of pigeonholing these strategies as “pastoralist” when in fact they are environmentally friendly scenarios based demonstrably in extensive livestock production?

–In case there is any doubt about the high disesteem in which I hold the notion of a LNPT, let me be clear: If corporate greenwashing is, as one definition has it, “an umbrella term for a variety of misleading communications and practices that intentionally or not, induce false positive perceptions of a system’s environmental performance,” then environmental livestock-tarring is “an umbrella term for a variety of misleading communications and practices that intentionally or not, induce false negative perceptions of a system’s environmental performance.”

*https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/12/replace-animal-farms-micro-organism-rewilding-food-precision-fermentation-emissions

Drylands, remittances and the twelve rules for radicals

–Any number of radical proposals have been made for addressing problems of the globe’s rangelands, including: the end of capitalism and extractivism, redistribution of wealth, and reparations.

In an important sense, though, these are not be radical enough. I have in mind the “twelve rules for radicals” of the late organizer, Saul Alinsky, two in particular being:

RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety, and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.

https://sliwainsights.com/saul-alinskys-12-rules-for-radicals/

–By extension, use the logic of capitalism, extractivism and financial accumulation to benefit rangelands and pastoralists, e.g.:

1. Start with the EU’s Emission Trading System for CO2 emission credits. Imagine member/non-member states and companies are now able to enter the ETS to buy credits directed to offsetting GHG emissions in dryland localities committed to transitioning to environmentally friendly production systems and livelihoods based in or around livestock.

2. Start with the European COVID-19 initiative, NextGenerationEU (issuance of joint debt by EU member states to fund pandemic recovery). Imagine employee support schemes under this or some such initiative, with one aim being to augment remittances of resident migrants back to dryland household members and communities.

3. Stay with those resident migrants sending back remittances. Imagine other EU-financed schemes to improve the greening of EU localities heavily resident with migrants (e.g. subsidies to EU residents for more sustainable lifestyles in the EU). Think of this as a form of “reversed green extractivism,” in this case on behalf of dryland households by EU member states for EU-migrant communities.

Now extend this kind of thinking to the likes of G7 and many OECD countries. The aim, again, is not to dismiss current radical proposals, but to find opportunities to exploit all twelve of Alinsky’s rules for radicals.

Shackle analysis: a pastoralist example

I

Unlike most economists of his generation or later ones, G.L.S. Shackle was preoccupied with how economic agents make real-time decisions in situations so uncertain that no one, including agents, knows the range of options and their probability distributions upon which to decide. In answer, Shackle produced an analysis based on possibilities rather than probabilities and what is desirable or undesirable rather than what is optimal or feasible.

For Shackle, possibility is the inverse of surprise (the greater an agent’s disbelief that something will happen, the less possible it is from their perspective). Understanding what is possible depends on the agents thinking about what they find surprising, namely, identifying what one would take to be counter-expected or unexpected events that could arise from or be associated with the decision in question. Once they think through these alternative or rival scenarios, the agents should be better able to ascribe to each how (more or less) desirable or undesirable a possibility it is.

These dimensions of possibility (possible to not possible) and desiredness (desirable to undesirable) form the four cells of a Shackle analysis, in which the decisionmakers position the perceived rival options. Their challenge is to identify under what conditions, if any, the more undesirable-but-possible options and/or the more desirable-but-not-possible options could become both desirable and possible. In doing so, they seek to better underwrite and stabilize the assumptions for their decisionmaking.

II

Let’s move now from the simplifications to a complexifying example. Consider the following conclusion from an investigation of sedentarization among Borana pastoralists:

Although in the case of this study we can speculate generally about what has prompted the sedentarization adaptation from quantitative analysis and the narratives of local residents, we do not sufficiently understand the specific institutions and information that individuals, households, and communities have utilized in their adaptation decision making. Only in understanding the mechanisms of such inter-scale adaptations can national and state governments work toward increasing community agency and promoting effective and efficient local adaptive capacity.

https://doi.org/10.5751/ ES-13503-270339

Such an admission is as rare as it is much needed in the policy and management research with which I am familiar. Thus the point made below should not be considered a criticism of the case study findings. Here I want to use the Shackle analysis to push their conclusion further.

III

At least in this example we know where to start the Shackle analysis: sedentarization’s dismal track record.

Briefly stated, what and where are now undesirable adaptations in Ethiopian pastoralist sedentarization–by government? by communities? by others?–that: were not possible then and there but are now; or were possible then and there but are not now? More specifically, where else in Ethiopia, if at all, are conditions such that those undesirable adaptations of sedentarization are now considered more desirable by pastoralist communities themselves?

If there is even one case of a community where the undesirable has now become desirable and where the now-desired is (still) possible, then sedentarization is not a matter of, well, settled knowledge.

Recasting “land-use conflicts” involving pastoralists

I

Largely single-cause explanations of land-use conflicts among pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, herders and farmers have been as common as they have been discredited–it was because of inter-ethnic competition; because of population increase; because of global warming now; because of rival militarizations right now. The great virtue of political ecology, in my view, has been to complexify narratives re: scarcity-of-this-or-that-sort leads to land-use conflict.

I want to suggest, though, that even the more nuanced, multi-causal explanations can be pushed and pulled further.

In particular, I’m not sure that “conflict,” after a point, helps or aids better pastoralist policy and development. In no way should the following be construed as criticism of those writing on land-use conflicts nor is my contribution a justification for killing people. I suggest only that there may be a different way of interpreting what is going on, and if there is, then there may be other ways even better to productively rethink the policy issues involved.

To that end, I use two lenses from the framework I offered in my 2020 STEPS paper.

II

The first is the logic of requisite variety. Complex environments require complex means of adaptation. If inputs are highly variable, so too must be the processes and options to transform this input variability into outputs and outcomes with low and stable variance, in our case, sustained herder livelihoods (or off-take, or herd size, or composition. . .).

One major implication is that “land-use conflict” has to be differentiated from the get-go. By way of example, references to pastoralist raids, skirmishes and flare-ups that do not identify “with-respect-to” what inputs, processes or outputs are bound to be very misleading.

Consider a livestock raid of one pastoralist group on another. It’s part of the input variability of the latter group but it also part of the process options of the former (i.e., when periodic raids are treated as one means over the longer term to respond to unpredictable input shocks, like sudden herd die-offs). Indeed, some discussion of jihadist raids by young pastoralist men in the Sahel seems to reflect the changing composition and level of variance around the outputs and outcomes (as if there was something like “young-men pastoralism” whose outputs had been changed by or with jihadism).

So what? It matters for pastoralist policy just what are the process options of the pastoralist group being raided. Do the response options include that of a counter-raid, or to send more household members away from the area, or to form alliances with other threatened groups, or to seek a political accommodation, or to undertake something altogether different or unexpected? For the purposes of policy and management, a livestock raid (or such) is more than a livestock raid.

III

The second lens to refocus land-use conflicts is the entire cycle of infrastructure operations (I make the argument of pastoralism-as-infrastructure above and in the STEPS paper).

Infrastructures, as described earlier, have normal operations, which are decidedly NOT invariant operations; “normal” includes fluctuations and adjustments in service provision, often within formal or informal bandwidths, so as to accommodate the impacts of inevitable contingencies. Also normal operations include periods of asset maintenance and repair, routine and non-routine.

At times, however, operations–again for the continuous supply of system services–are disrupted: A disruption is a temporary loss of service that requires restoration efforts so as to return to normal level. If restoration fails, the entire system could well fail; it could as well fail for other reasons. Outright system failure means indefinite loss of system services and destruction of assets.

In the face of massive failure, immediate response efforts are triggered (e.g., search and rescue efforts). These are eventually followed by longer term recovery operations to a new normal. Nothing is inevitable or guaranteed in one stage following another, including realization of a new normal after systemwide failure.

With that in mind, different stages of pastoralist system operations also require differentiation of “land-use conflict” from the get-go. A livestock raid undertaken by one pastoralist group on another in order to repair or restore its herd numbers/composition differs from the livestock raid undertaken as an immediate emergency response to having the entire system of operations or herd disappear because of some systemwide calamity.

As for those jihadist inspired and supported raids by young pastoralist men, it’s important to determine if those raids are best understood as recovery efforts to a new normal (recovery of a failed system is much more inter-organizationally demanding–think conventional humanitarian aid–than service restoration after a temporary disruption by the system on its own). Much of the current literature on the plight of pastoralists seems as well to be equating recurring pastoralist recoveries after failures as its new normal.

IV

Again: So what? As with the logic of requisite variety, the whole cycle requires those involved in pastoralist policy and management to first differentiate cases of “land-use conflict” before proposing or adopting policy interventions. It isn’t merely about that old nostrum: Conflict can be productive, not destructive. Rather, land-use conflicts are fundamentally different cases of different lands, different uses and different conflicts.

This is especially true if one takes a long-term perspective on pastoralist systems and their evolution. A “conflict” going on for 30 years or more is obviously one that pushes and pulls to center-stage both the full cycle of pastoralist operations across time and the logic of requisite variety at any point in time for transforming input variability into sustained (though over time changing) outputs and outcomes.

The methodological challenge of interconnected granularity in representing pastoralists and pastoralisms

I
Ask yourself what it means when it’s easier to identify a dominant development narrative about pastoralism—all you have to do is read the critical literature—than it is to formulate plausible failure scenarios for a proposed pastoralist intervention?

The issue isn’t just “the devil is in the details.” It’s also about identifying and describing the interconnections between and among the details of a failure scenario in ways not possible with the less granular representations of earlier pastoralist development narratives, such as the Tragedy of the Commons. (I focus on scenarios of failure because pastoral development narratives are typically pessimistic representations.)

To illustrate, take the obvious example: We know performance along the project/program cycle from formulation through design onto approval into implementation and later evaluation/redesign (if any) depend on different details at different stages for different scenarios, including those for failure. Equally evident, I argue, is that once interconnections between the details across the different stages are brought to the fore, you’ve established a very effective critique of anything like a “normal project or program cycle.”

This is because identifying and representing latent and manifest interconnectivities is methodologically the best way to highlight the role of contingencies—chance, happenstance, the unexpected or the hitherto unimagined—in unmaking even the best-intended project or program from design through to redesign. The very notion of something as distinct as “implementation” is shown to be its own reduced-form development narrative in the face of really-existing fits and starts, mishaps and sudden delays, ruptures or other discontinuities from the get-go onwards.

II
Details are themselves representations, such that representations are themselves interconnected through narratives and scenarios. The clearest difference between the representations in failure scenarios and those in pastoralist development narratives is the former’s with-respect-to granularity. Not only are failure scenarios typically more complex, they are often detailed with respect to better anticipating (that is, predicting and preparing for): “What happens next?”

Are detailed failure scenarios, in contrast to reduced-form development narratives, guaranteed to answer the What-Next question? Surely not. There are any number of emergency playbooks, disaster protocols and failure response handbooks whose step-by-steps exist on paper or screen only. But here too what’s often missing in the documentation are the contingent interconnectivities represented as latent, or emerging, or having become manifest, as details and events are said to unfold in this place and duration. That said, the level of granularity found in failure scenarios is, in my experience, often not found at the level of abstraction in development narratives.

III
Three implications about this level of granularity in development narratives are noteworthy here. One and again, it appears you can become an expert in development narratives by reading the literature or parroting similar-minded people without ever having undertaken your own field work or practice.

Two, some common property counternarratives also fail to answer the What-Next question for widely diverse sets of pastoralisms and pastoralists. Think most recently the Dasgupta Review’s formal model for managing common pool resources.

Three, globalization, marketization and commodification have indeed set into play path dependencies. But the answer to What-Happens-Next in path dependencies is, well, continued path dependence. That’s not granular enough for real-time policy and management. Different path dependencies are also represented via different levels of granularity, and it is not clear why the path dependencies of globalization, marketization and commodification are so often generalized as to be a kind of de-granularization, de-differentiation and erasure of diversity that matters for better policy and management on the ground.

An authoritative website for real-time decisionmaking involving pastoralists

–I’m proposing an authoritative website established for real-time decisionmaking concerning livestock herders and their systems.

–An authoritative website provides sought-after, up-to-date and linked knowledge so quickly and reliably that it is continuously browsed by increasing numbers of users who click on the website early and often in their search for on-point information, in this case about pastoralists.

  • These websites do not pretend to provide final or definitive information, but rather seek to assure and ensure the quality of the topical information continually up-dated.
  • The website serves as a clearinghouse that encourages cross-checking and tailoring of information on, e.g., pastoral development, while also acting as a springboard for future information search and exchange. It is popular because it shortens the number of steps to search for salient information.
  • Well-known U.S. example: Going online to http://www.mayoclinic.org after an initial cancer diagnosis.

–In this illustrative scenario, the policy type, analyst or manager starts her analysis on pastoralist development by searching–let’s give it a name–http://www.PastoralistsNow.org

  • She goes to this website on the well-established better practice that information becomes increasingly policy or management relevant when the people gathering the information are the ones who actually use that information.
  • That is, the authoritative website is constructed and maintained as a platform to make real-time searching and browsing easier for searchers, not least of whom are project and program managers.
  • It is authoritative because: (1) it is online, that is, can be kept up-to-date in ways other media can’t; and (2) it is digital, that is, can be curated for salient multimedia, including but not limited to: video, podcast, blogs, reports, articles, chatrooms, graphics-rich tutorials, advice line (“ask the professionals”), and possibly its own YouTube channel.

–Who funds, provides content, and curates such a website is, of course, the question, e.g., a consortium of researchers, centers, journals and foundations. To that end, it could also be an important deliverable for the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists 2026. Language will be an issue, insurmountable in some cases. But the broader point I’m making here remains the same:

ARGUABLY, THE MOST “PRO-PASTORALIST POLICY” OF A GOVERNMENT OR NGO IS HAVING ITS DECISONMAKERS SEARCH ONLINE FOR BETTER INFORMATION IN THEIR REAL-TIME PROBLEM-SOLVING DIRECTED TO PASTORALIST ISSUES.

Principal sources

–The Göran Therborn quote is at: https://journalofchinesesociology.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40711-021-00143-0

Barry, A. (2020). What is an environmental problem? In the special issue, “Problematizing the Problematic,” Theory, Culture & Society: 1 – 25.

Krätli, S. (2015) Valuing Variability: New Perspectives on Climate Resilient Drylands Development, London:IIED http://pubs.iied.org/10128IIED.html

—— (2019) Pastoral Development Orientation Framework—Focus on Ethiopia, MISEREOR/IHR Hilfwerk, Aachen: Bischöfliches Hilfswerk MISEREOR e. V.

Nori, M. (2019) Herding Through Uncertainties – Principles and Practices. Exploring the interfaces of pastoralists and uncertainty. Results from a literature review, EUI Working Paper RSCAS 2019/69, San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute

—— (2019) Herding Through Uncertainties – Regional Perspectives. Exploring the interfaces of pastoralists and uncertainty. Results from a literature review, EUI Working Paper RSCAS 2019/68, San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute

—— (2021) The evolving interface between pastoralism and uncertainty: reflecting on cases from three continents, EUI Working Paper RSCAS 2021/16, San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute

Roe, E. (2020) A New Policy Narrative for Pastoralism? Pastoralists as Reliability Professionals and Pastoralist Systems as Infrastructure, STEPS Working Paper 113, Brighton: STEPS Centre (available online at https://steps-centre.org/publication/a-new-policy-narrative-for-pastoralism/)

Scoones, I. (2019) What is Uncertainty and Why Does it Matter? STEPS Working Paper 105, Brighton: STEPS Centre.

Marginal?

When I first became interested in livestock herders in Africa, I was told they lived on marginal lands. Fifty years later the more common refrain is these herders are marginalized–marginalized in politics, by the economy, and now because of the climate emergency.

I hate that word, marginal.

Since the academic study of pastoralism appears to be stuck with its use and abuse, may I suggest a different, more positive analogy:

The illuminators [of medieval manuscripts] enriched the margins of the page, conventionally an empty space, with figurative, vegetal or abstract elements. Sometimes the marginal images were merely decorative, at other times they functioned rather like visual footnotes or sidebars, as serious or comic commentaries on the text. . .

Jed Perl (2021). Authority and Freedom. Alfred A. Knopf: New York

In short, pastoralists continue to illuminate to our advantage what others persist texting as “the margins.” How so I’ve tried to detail throughout this packet of entries on pastoralists and pastoralisms.

Pastoralism on the offense, not just defended

–Pastoralists and their herds need to be defended against state depredations, private capture and encroachment, and livestock tarring by climate activists. I can also see the need for those defenders who believe “structural problems require structural solutions,” even when leaving “the low mean cunning” (their term, not mine) to others.

What I don’t understand is the comparative absence of discussion, with notable exceptions, of pastoralisms that are in need of no defense, given the double standards operating in the relevant literatures.

–Allow me a few examples:

  • Indigenous populations and their land rights are now taken by the Left as an essential part of democratic struggles (and not just in the Americas). But where are pastoralists holding livestock and claiming their land rights in the literature on this indigeneity?
  • We hear about the need to move infrastructure change away from powerful actors towards more inclusive low-carbon futures. But where is the focus in that literature on pastoralists already practicing such futures?
  • We know dryland pastoralists have members sending back remittances from their urban areas of residence. But when was the last time you heard researchers ask of them, “Do you vote or not?”
    • Yet that question along with those related to party affiliation are asked all the time in progressive movements like the “new municipalism” (think struggles over housing in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, and Vienna).
    • Jihadists and inter-ethnic conflict in the Sahel have been more studied, I suspect, than these migrant struggles over better housing and care in the cities from which essential remittances are sent. Indeed, when was the last time you read something that started with the political lives of pastoralist households?
  • The literature on varieties of capitalism pretty well demonstrates capitalism is better understood as “an assemblage of actors (both state and market), policies and people” (in contrast to a directed project of global reproduction and accumulation), How then could pastoralisms not be intertwined with capitalisms?
    • Pastoralisms have been and remain assemblages of actors (state and market), policies and people, a commercial intertwining that existed well before the advent of always-late capitalism and the more recent late-imperialism?
    • In fact, I’d bet there are cases where this intertwined rope called “an economy” is better understood as more pastoralist than capitalist.
  • And, just to make sure we are on the same page, that “capitalist” is very misleading when it obscures understanding the signal significance of the pastoralist part of said economy. Rather “the foundational economy” (FE) is the better term, not “capitalism” or “varieties of capitalism.”
    • “The FE comprises two parts,” according to researchers writing on cases in Sweden. “Material FE connects households to daily essentials and encompasses utilities (electricity, gas and water), transport and telecommunication infrastructure, food production and distribution, as well as private banking services. Providential FE includes a subset of activities providing welfare services (education, health and care) as well as systems of income maintenance.”
    • In the literature on foundational economies, what have been called the lifeline infrastructures not only drive regional economies; there wouldn’t be any foundational economy without them.
  • This means that to declare contemporary economics “capitalist” as if by default occludes the similarities that pastoralist economies have with other foundational economies across time and space.

–The list could go on, but so what? I for one would wish as much time were spent on these myopic standards as has been spent on the crises of pastoralists!

Principal sources

https://academic.oup.com/joeg/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jeg/lbac027/6759701 [foundational economy]

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0308518X221130080 [capitalisms as assemblages]

Try to engineer a soft landing for the economy (sic)

–Engineers profess the need for large hazardous systems to “fail gracefully.” That assumes a degree of control over technological failure as it is happening and, as far as I can tell, there is nothing “graceful” about a large technical system failing or failing to recover.

“Control” is also problematic when it comes to the operations of large critical infrastructures. These infrastructures have to be managed beyond their technical and regulatory controls in order to be reliable (i.e., ensuring the continuous and safe provision of services considered vital to society).

Another way to put the point is that these systems can’t be controlled for efficiency’s purposes as they cannot be managed reliably that way.

–So what?

It’s not just the sheer hubris expressed in phrases like “engineering a soft landing of the economy.” It’s not just the idiocy of thinking not only that risks of major investments can be managed, but that the capital in all this can be “derisked,” It means that even anti-utopians have been delusional at times. Karl Popper, philosopher, was known for contrasting Utopian engineering with what he called the more realistic approach of piecemeal engineering:

It is infinitely more difficult to reason about an ideal society. Social life is so complicated that few men, or none at all, could judge a blueprint for social engineering on the grand scale; whether it is practicable; whether it would result in a real improvement; what kind of suffering it may involve; and what may be the means for its realization. As opposed to this, blueprints for piecemeal engineering are comparatively simple. They are blueprints for single institutions, for health and unemployed insurance, for instance. . . If they go wrong, the damage is not very great, and a re-adjustment not very difficult. They are less risky, and for this very reason less controversial.

If they go wrong, the damage is not very great”!? It’s the case that blueprints for piecemeal health insurance–and educational reform, government budgeting and financial deregulation, for that matter–have been damaging. Here, utopian engineering is the least of our problems.

Would it fairer to say–more realistic to say–that the health care mess, along with other ones, manage us as we try to manage them?

Pastoralism on the offense, not just defended

–Pastoralists and their herds need to be defended against state depredations, private capture and encroachment, and livestock tarring by climate activists. I can also see the need for those defenders who believe “structural problems require structural solutions,” even when leaving “the low mean cunning” (their term, not mine) to others.

What I don’t understand is the comparative absence of discussion, with notable exceptions, of pastoralisms that are in need of no defense, given the double standards operating in the relevant literatures.

–Allow me a few examples:

  • Indigenous populations and their land rights are now taken by the Left as an essential part of democratic struggles (and not just in the Americas). But where are pastoralists holding livestock and claiming their land rights in the literature on this indigeneity?
  • We hear about the need to move infrastructure change away from powerful actors towards more inclusive low-carbon futures. But where is the focus in that literature on pastoralists already practicing such futures?
  • We know dryland pastoralists have members sending back remittances from their urban areas of residence. But when was the last time you heard researchers ask of them, “Do you vote or not?”
    • Yet that question along with those related to party affiliation are asked all the time in progressive movements like the “new municipalism” (think struggles over housing in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, and Vienna).
    • Jihadists and inter-ethnic conflict in the Sahel have been more studied, I suspect, than these migrant struggles over better housing and care in the cities from which essential remittances are sent. Indeed, when was the last time you read something that started with the political lives of pastoralist households?
  • The literature on varieties of capitalism pretty well demonstrates capitalism is better understood as “an assemblage of actors (both state and market), policies and people” (in contrast to a directed project of global reproduction and accumulation), How then could pastoralisms not be intertwined with capitalisms?
    • Pastoralisms have been and remain assemblages of actors (state and market), policies and people, a commercial intertwining that existed well before the advent of always-late capitalism and the more recent late-imperialism?
    • In fact, I’d bet there are cases where this intertwined rope called “an economy” is better understood as more pastoralist than capitalist.
  • And, just to make sure we are on the same page, that “capitalist” is very misleading when it obscures understanding the signal significance of the pastoralist part of said economy. Rather “the foundational economy” (FE) is the better term, not “capitalism” or “varieties of capitalism.”
    • “The FE comprises two parts,” according to researchers writing on cases in Sweden. “Material FE connects households to daily essentials and encompasses utilities (electricity, gas and water), transport and telecommunication infrastructure, food production and distribution, as well as private banking services. Providential FE includes a subset of activities providing welfare services (education, health and care) as well as systems of income maintenance.”
    • In the literature on foundational economies, what have been called the lifeline infrastructures not only drive regional economies; there wouldn’t be any foundational economy without them.
    • This means that to declare contemporary economics “capitalist” as if by default occludes the similarities that pastoralist economies have with other foundational economies across time and space.

–The list could go on, but so what? I for one would wish as much time were spent on these myopic standards as has been spent on the crises of pastoralists!

Principal sources

https://academic.oup.com/joeg/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jeg/lbac027/6759701 [foundational economy]

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0308518X221130080 [capitalisms as assemblages]

Answering the “So what?” question: Why not more about heterogeneity and complexity than just the obligatory “differentiated by gender, race and class”?

I First, the examples.

Microfinance initiatives

“The detailed review of the evidence above uncovered an even more nuanced picture, reflecting large variations across the effects of different interventions (credit only, savings only, community-based finance, mixed microfinance) and for different people in different contexts. Findings across the meta-studies were heterogeneous and often inconsistent, both within and across meta-studies, and many did not find evidence of expected or presumed impacts.”

https://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/handle/20.500.12413/14269

Criminal justice

Further complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have one “criminal justice system;” instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.

https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2022.html

Related structural racism

This is the case, for instance, with broad-brush rhetorical attacks on ‘structural racism in criminal justice’ that confuse the different scales of the American penal state (federal, state, county and city), overlook the hyperlocalism and administrative fragmentation of a criminal justice system that is not a system, and amalgamate the different practices of legislating, policing, pretrial detention, prosecution, public defence, plea negotiation and litigation, sentencing, supervising, court-mandated programming, incarceration, and sentence administration, each of which has layers of internal complexity, and may or may not produce looping ethnoracial disparities. . . .[“Structural racism”] replaces meticulous study with facile sloganeering, and pinpoint remedial action with vague calls for systemic changes that are unlikely to come about or to produce their expected results. In so doing, this vogue word betrays its ostensive purpose: to excavate the social conditions of possibility of ethnoracial justice.

Loic Wacquant, sociologist, a https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii133/articles/loic-wacquant-resolving-the-trouble-with-race

Digital sovereignty

The analysis identifies seven different but overlapping narratives of digital sovereignty in the German discourse that serve to promote partly contradictory political agendas. We argue that this diversity is not a bug, but a feature. Specifically, it supports rich internarrative linkages which benefit the broader resonance of each individual narrative. It also enables a broad set of political actors to enlist digital sovereignty for their specific priorities.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/gove.12690

The Dasqupta Review on the economics of biodiversity

Dasgupta talks of “the economy” (a phrase used 91 times) in the singular, as if only his chosen economic system could exist – an idealized market capitalism. All variety in actual social provisioning systems and alternatives across time and space are conveniently ignored.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14747731.2021.1929007

State capitalism

The heterogeneous literature on the ‘new state capitalism’ has provoked considerable academic and popular interest in recent years, but also critique regarding how to analytically bolster the concept and enhance empirical understanding.

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/epub/10.1177/0308518X221083986

Contemporary time

Infrastructural time, Appel (2018b) argues, partakes of a similar temporal structure, wrapping futurity and deferral together in a bewildering, purgatorial admixture. This is how Ko Tun and many other villagers relate to developmental time: through the tense of the not-yet. While developmental time signals the mythic, utopian time-space of modernity, forged in liberal empire, the not-yet points to its manifest social worlds. Those worlds are building and crumbling, on the threshold of figuration, and fraught with uncertainty. They are heterogeneous in a way that blends modernist promises and non-linear time. In Dawei, heterogeneous time is not about premodern exceptions, but rather the differential worlds of postcolonial capitalism—in all its multiple, dissonant, contradictory actuality.

https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/doi/10.7916/4b7c-1h54

Gig economy

More specifically, I argue that the combination of the technological structure of gig work (nearly automatic, open-access employment, algorithm-driven work process) plus workers’ ability to choose schedules and hours yields an unusually heterogeneous labor force on a range of dimensions, especially patterns of work in other jobs and portfolios of household incomes. As a result, worker experiences are also more heterogeneous than in conventional workplaces. One implication is that the nexus of management control cannot be reduced to algorithmic control, as some accounts have it, but rests in significant part on the role that market discipline plays. For workers who are highly dependent on platform earnings, the fear of job loss (Bowles 1985; Schor and Bowles 1987), is an important disciplinary device that enhances technological control. By contrast, for those workers who have other jobs, pensions, and family incomes, algorithmic control and fear of deactivation are less powerful. They are able to carve out more autonomy and satisfaction in platform work. This helps to distinguish platform-based gig labor from other forms of labor relations, and clarify its novelty

https://digitalage.berlin/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Brief-3_Schor_final.pdf

Scaling climate change and response

Why don’t some things scale easily? Scaling up our collective response to climate change has been notoriously difficult because people neither agree on problem definitions nor solutions; because the effects of climate change and mitigation efforts translate into different real-world experiments depending on location; and because different constituencies in the global political economy don’t agree on how to value what. Any site where scaling is made to look easy should thus raise red flags about a likely lack of comprehension or inclusiveness of perspectives.

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/03063127211048945

COVID-19 preparedness and response

However, these general trends mask significant heterogeneity in responses as countries neither entered nor went through the crisis alike. . . .Overall, the pre-pandemic global outlook was heterogeneous across different geographies. . .

https://www.esm.europa.eu/publications/regional-responses-covid-19-crisis-comparative-study-economic-policy-and-institutional

Cybersecurity breaches

These results nonetheless highlight the ways that data breaches can have a heterogeneous effect on brand. . . .Although data breaches have become more common according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, there is little evidence that companies have drastically improved their cybersecurity infrastructure.

https://academic.oup.com/cybersecurity/article/7/1/tyab021/6362163

Tax havens

The use of tax havens varies considerably from bank to bank. The mean percentage of profits booked in tax havens is about 20% and ranges from 0% for nine banks to a maximum of 58%. The mean effective tax rate paid by the banks in our sample is 20%, with a minimum of 10% and a maximum of 30%. Seven banks exhibit a particularly low effective tax rate, below or equal to 15%. To better understand this heterogeneity, we analyse the use of tax havens by three banks with a relatively high presence in tax havens: HSBC, Deutsche Bank, and Société Générale. We observe a diversity of situations. . .

https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-03350725/document

Municipal housing

Taken together, the analysis of the four cities paints a complex picture of the role of public control in the field of housing . Clearly, the degree and form of this type of government intervention differs considerably, reflecting established institutional settings, historical path-dependencies and power relations . On a general level, the level of public control differs in regard to the main driver of governing (top down vs . bottom up), in their relationship to urban social movements, as well as whether their efforts reflect historical continuities or newer developments . Whereas Vienna (as well as Amsterdam to some extent) represents a case of strong continuity, a distant relation to social movements, and a top-down approach, this contrasts starkly to Barcelona and Berlin, where recent years have seen profound changes with regard to public control in housing, strongly pushed forward by social movement activities . All four cases, meanwhile, in different areas, provide innovative policy approaches to promote such activities . They are developed to different degrees, however, and subject to structural constraints and power struggles

https://www.rosalux.de/fileadmin/user_upload/RLS_Study_Municipalism_in_Practice.pdf

II So what?

In a world where gender, race and class are the first-round differentiators, it is far too easy to conclude: Structural problems require structural solutions. That propositioon is grotesquely premature and lethal to any first-round respect for heterogeneity and complexity.

Why? Because the proposition willfully ignores concrete approaches for concrete problems, locally. Such an approach could care less about canvassing cases of what is actually working here or there so as to be usefully modified elsewhere.

It might be a start (could, perhaps, maybe, possibly you know in theory)

. . . .The German solar sector conservatively reinforces an inherently unequal global and national political economy, rather than fostering a radically restructured economy that runs on principles of solidarity and sustainability, not profit. Radical democratization and decentralization, the mandatory use of recycled materials, while curbing the power of corporations involved in the political economy of energy, with a strict (and strictly enforced) ban of all trade of electronic and other toxic waste together with fundamentally reformed regulations on trade of energy manufacturing resources prioritizing ecological and social justice concerns, might be a start.

Might be a start“? A solitary “might be” to conclude a long set of spot-on criticisms?

–So comes to end another article where it should have started. Readers already know we need radical restructuring. Many could and would add to this list of desirables.

But now someone tell us: How are we to get there? What are the better practices across a diversity of sites that work to achieve behaving better–economically and democratically and regulatorily?

Another virtue in reviewing really-existing practices as widely as possible “might be” to demonstrate that solar renewables are the last thing a good number of sites need worry about.

Responding to the climate emergency: a poet’s contribution

I

No one would accuse Jorie Graham of being hopeful about the climate emergency. There is not a scintilla, not a homeopathic whiff of environmental optimism, techno-social-otherwise, in the poetry I’ve read of hers.

Which poses my challenge: Can I nevertheless find something to move forward with from her four recent books of poetry, compiled as [To] The Last [Be] Human? Is there some thing, other than anger and dread at the way things are going, that I can use in my responding to the climate emergency?

II

To expect answers from poets is to make an outrageous demand. Still, that’s what I’m doing here.

Graham directs such an intense beam of darkness on the climate emergency that I ask: What’s left, if anything, that glimmers? Whether she sees them is not the point. That I see and name them, as others might too, is.

III

There are two easy ways to finesse my challenge. First, Graham provides instances where she has been wrong (“. . .how you/cannot/comprehend the thing you are meant/to be looking/for”). Presumably being wrong could be with respect to her views on the climate emergency as well. Second, there is no reason to believe her readers read her as she hopes, regardless of any belief there will be no readers if things continue as they are.

But that kind of line of argument is too dismissive of what Graham is doing here.

To lay my cards out then: Graham’s analytic sensibility shines through the poems’ dark prospect for me. One can historicize her work or point to her admissions of fallibility, but none of that matters. It’s her scalpel-sharp talent to get to a point and in doing so make that point wholly matter. As much is going on in the compilation’s four books, the following remarks are confined to those about and for the climate emergency.

Sea Change

IV

An illustration, one from many, reflects the constellation of factors at work for me (from the compilation’s first book, Sea Change):

                                                                         the last river we know loses its
form, widens as if a foot were lifted from the dancefloor but not put down again, ever, 
                                                         so that it's not a 
dance-step, no, more like an amputation where the step just disappears, midair, although
                                                         also the rest of the body is
missing, beware of your past, there is a fiery apple in the orchard, the coal in the under-
                                                         ground is bursting with
                                                         sunlight, inquire no further it says. . .  (p. 12)

There’s that tumbling out and after of words and the turns of phrase that deepen the rush. Then they bounce off and back from the two hard left-side margins and the right-side enjambment. For someone with my background and training, it’s difficult not to see this as resilience-being-performed, right in front of me.

Some might describe this rush of words a compulsion to continue forward, but I see hard walls being repelled from and pushed up to, and sometimes through (as in the hyphen-less “dancefloor”). Not as though it were hope. Rather: as a coiling that toggles between everywhere necessary and never out of sight/site. A resilience for the climate emergency.

V

Better yet, the analytic sensibility works for me. A personally striking passage in Sea Change is:

the sound of the bird lifting, thick, rustling, where it flies over--only see it is
                                                       a hawk after all, I had not seen
clearly. . .(p7)

I know that sound. I can hear the rustled lifting up. Thick is exactly what it is. I see it.

Graham isn’t so much describing something to me. Nor do I take her meaning “this might be the last hawk. . .” I read the lines as if a report from a side planet where she resides entirely like mine: except this world in which I am has fast-forwarded. It’s the hawk-here that rises from the field and flaps toward me-here and I know it because I contrast it to her then-and-there.

VI

A tic in her sensibility is especially illuminating: her intermix of macro and micro, general and specific, universal and particular, without an in-between gradient (my terms). Two examples toward the end of Sea Change illustrate this (here too breaking into her flow):

                                                . . . .It is an emergency actually, this waking and doing and
cleaning-up afterwards, & then sleep again, & then up you go, the whole 15,000 years of 
the inter-
                                                           glacial period, & the orders & the getting done &
the getting back in time & the turning it back on, & did you remember, did you pass, did
you lose the address again. . . (p55)
   . . .The future. How could it be performed by the mind became the
                                                        question—how, this sensation called tomorrow and
                                                        tomorrow? Did you look down at
                                                        your hands just now? The dead gods
                                                        are still being
                                                        killed. They don’t appear in
                                                        “appearance.” They turn the page for
                                                        us. The score does not acknowledge
                                                        the turner of
                                                        pages. And always the
absent thing, there, up ahead, like a highway ripped open and left hanging, in the
                                                        void. . . (p45)

Again—that rush of words, use of margins, turns of phrase that cut to and make a point—but what’s most notable for me is there is no middle between future and mind, gods and hands, the emergency and losing an address.

I come from a profession and training where in contrast, because conditions get complex, we look for the meso-level(s). There are those emerging patterns and formations not seen at the level of individual cases nor at the level of universalized generalizations. Instead for Graham, the complexity is in that wide-open combinatorics of micro’s and macro’s. This too is quite a different sensibility for the Anthropocene.

P L A C E

VII

I had a difficult time making sense of the placement and role of “Cagnes Sur Mer 1950” at the beginning of the compilation’s second book. Why is this poem so different from the Graham country that follows and we know so well by this point? A clue offered itself when I later crossed T.J. Clark’s more recent, If These Apples Should Fall: Cézanne and the present.

In comparing Cézanne’s version of a Pissarro painting to the original, Clark pinpoints many features attributed to impressionist or modernist painting:

The reader will have registered the familiars: groundlessness, airlessness, absence of contact, lack of distance but also of proximity, lack of the sense of a palpable shared world, uncertainty, a strange false vividness. . .a vividness that is irresistible but puts one nowhere… (p50)

These features were striking precisely because I could not find them together in P L A C E, except “Cagnes Sur Mer 1950.” Save for the latter, many of this book’s poems are tactile, grounded and tensile, vividly there, tangibly calamitous at times and utterly confident in their urgency for the palpably shared world, human and nonhuman.

Where then does “Cagnes Sur Mer 1950” take its readers for what follows in P L A CE? One answer, my answer, starts with the poem’s last lines:

When my mother’s voice got closer it had a body.
It had arms and they were holding something
that must have been a basket. My mind now
can go round her, come in front, and wrap her
as her arms wrapped that basket.
And it must have been wicker
because I see in the light the many lucent browns, the white tips,
as she steps out of the shadow
in which nothing but her hands and the front of her act of carrying
are visible. And when her body arrives
it is with the many lemons entirely struck, entirely taken, by sunshine,
which the heavy basket is still now carrying,
and her bright fingernails woven into each other,
and her face with its gaze searching for me,
gaze which felt like one of the bright things she was carrying
in front of herself, a new belly.
All I was to invent in this life is there in the wicker basket among the lemons
having come from below the horizon where the sound of the market rises
up into the private air in which she is moving,
where she is still a whole woman, and a willing woman,
and I hear what must be prices and names called out
of flowers and fruit and meat and live animals in small cages,
all from below us, at the bottom of the village, from that part
which is so comfortable to me which is invisible,
and in which everything has to be sold by noon.
I think that was the moment of my being given my name,
where I first heard the voices carrying the prices
as her face broke and its smile appeared bending down towards me
saying there you are, there you are. (pp65-66)

It’s also difficult for someone with my training and background not to read these lines and the ten poems that follow (to and including “Torn Score”) as a layered palimpsest. It’s a commonplace in policy analysis and public management that current policies have overwritten past policies, but never completely: Erasures are not entire and different bits of different past texts surface in a new version. This isn’t a completely arbitrary analogy on my part. Graham clearly treats some of the sequence poems as commentary on “Cagnes Sur Mer 1950″ and commentaries form an important part of the history of really-existing palimpsests.

VIII

So what?

By the time we get to “Torn Score,” “Cagnes Sur Mer 1950” with its sunshine, pregnancy. body and more has been excised and reassembled, twisted and re-margined. The score has in-deed been torn; the sequence-palimpsest is scored over. “Torn Score” starts:

I think this is all somewhere inside myself, the incessant burning of my birth
            all shine
            lessening as also all low-flame
            heat of
love: and places loved: space time and people heightening, burning, then nothing . . .(p100)

The earlier mother “saying there you are, there you are” to the kicks inside has become a kickless “yes” of a wondering I-am:

            this world that 
                                             was, just minutes ago, the only one that
            was – you’re in it
            now – say yes
            out loud – say am I a
            personal
wholeness? a congerie of chemical elements? of truths held self-
            evident? – how do I see them?. . .(p101)

It’s “artificial fire” that has replaced “the many lemons entirely struck, entirely taken, by sunshine;” the earlier “body” is now “sacrificial” and “animal;” the remembered “smile” becomes “the last bus out no longer held in memory by anyone”; and “I first heard the voices” becomes a question, “a suddenly right second-thought?”

If we start with “Torn Score,” how are we then to recover anything like a “Cagnes Sur Mer 1950,” had we not read the latter from the start? For that is how a palimpsest has to be read: from the most recent text though to earlier ones, and only then as far as has been recovered or reconstructed.

IX

This will sound harsh but it follows from my construction. By the time we get to “Torn Score,” Graham has rendered “Cagnes Sur Mer 1950” unrecoverable. (As if the latter is now invisible in her body of work as its own fossil record of the Anthroopocene.) This is more than the earlier poem is now extinct. If read backwards from “Torn Score” to the a layer below (“Treadmill”), right off the reader is warned about any exercise in recovery:

                                                                           death by water, death by
wearing out -- death by surprise -- death by marriage -- death by having rummaged 
into the past, into the distant past -- death by ice core and prediction -- the entrails are lying on 
a thousand years of tabletops. . . (p92)

We are by this point in that Graham country with its propulsive phases between staggered margins, where rummaging in the past is also a death foretold. The last words of “Torn Score” are “all appetite”; the final words in P L A C E are “I can’t wait until tomorrow.” Who then needs prophecy, let alone rummaged signs from the past, when now is the writing indelibly on the wall? Yet few would be so foolish as the predict a poet’s next poem from their body of existing work. Why different for the Anthropocene?

X

Again: So what?

It means Jorie Graham’s analytic sensibility takes us far, and farther than we thought we could or should go, but that far and not further. It requires another kind of analytic sensibility–different poems from Graham?–to take the accreted palimpsest now called the climate emergency and recover from below anything like a re-readable “Cagnes Sur Mer 1950.”

That “re-readable” is very important when it comes to the optic of a policy palimpsest: It’s to go back and, in our case, find that line, “saying there you are, there you are,” and, in reading that, find you are no longer as distant as you would be if it were extinct but not as close as you would be had you been around when first read.

Fast

XI

One of the complexity challenges of the climate emergency can be likened to that of reading Hardy’s “Convergence of the Twain” as if it were still part of the news (it had been written less than two weeks after the sinking of the Titanic).

So too the challenge of reading the first section of poems in Graham’s Fast, the compilation’s third book. This is an extraordinary 17 pages, not just because of pulse driving her lines, but also for what she labels and evokes. The headline in her onwards-now: “we are in systemcide” (“Shroud,” p148).

XII

To read the sequence—“Ashes,” “Honeycomb,” “Deep Water Trawling,” and five others (pp141-157)—is to experience beginnings—“I spent a lifetime entering”—conjoined immediately to the ends (“I say too early too late”) with nary a middle in between (“Quick. You must make up your/answer as you made up your//question.”) We saw such absence of middles in Sea Change as well.

By not narrativizing the systemicide into beginning, middle and end, she prefers, I think, evoking the experience of now-time as end-time:

action unfolded in no temporality--->anticipation floods us but we/never were able--->not for one instant--->to inhabit time… (p154)

She achieves her elisions with long dashes or —>; also through series of nouns without commas and of endings without periods. Along the way are questions-as-assertions no longer needing question marks (“I know you can/see the purchases, but who is it is purchasing me—>can you please track that…”). Enjambment and lines sliced off by wide spaces also remind us things are not running smoothly.

XIII

So what?

Graham’s lines push and pull across the small bridges of those dashes and arrows. To read this way is to feel, for me, what poet and essayist, Paul Valery, described in a 1939 lecture:

Each word, each one of the words that allow us to cross the space of a thought so quickly, and follow the impetus of an idea which rates its own expression, seems like one of those light boards thrown across a ditch or over a mountain crevasse to support the passage of a man in quick motion. But may he pass lightly, without stopping—and especially may he not loiter to dance on the thin board to try its resistance! The frail bridge at once breaks or falls, and all goes down into the depths.

So much for any bridging meso-level! The swiftness with which I cross her bridges is my experience of the rush of crisis. I also feel pulled forward to phrases and lines that I haven’t read yet. Since the latter is part of my experience of systems going wrong, it doesn’t matter to me whether Graham is catastrophizing or not.

For me, the climate emergency does have middles with far more mess than memorable beginnings and always endings—but that in no way diminishes my sense she’s right when it comes to systemcide: “You have to make it not become/waiting…”

Runaway

XIV

Analytic sensibilities are each unique because each doee not narrow the ambit to one topic but consolidates across many. This is demonstrated in Graham’s preceding three books and well manifest by the time we get to Runaway: death, mothers, children, birds, stillness, wind and a leaf. It even more outrageous for me to ask, but still fair enough for my opening challenge: How does her overarching sensibility illuminate the climate emergency for me?

XV

The sense and sensation of immediacy (my stale terms) recur more intensel, it seems to me. As in:

                                                                                                                         Any
breeze and I'd be human again. Swirl of leaf and I'd see it again. The vacancy. The
crust afloat the thing itself. There being no further than this as-if
hallucination. The hallucination of no as-if. The end. What is utterly. Is this

ancient. Is this. As if a huge pity but entirely and only made of matter. Where
has motion gone--it has taken time fate need. All lies here now in
the seen. Not seen as such just there entire in. the laying-out of itself in the
which-is. No if. That's it. The stillness of no if. . .(p270)

It’s an immediacy with those earlier and now other tics: the rush of phases without commas (“time fate need”); questions that are answers (“Is this//ancient.”); ambiguities (“All lies here now”); and some turning toward irony (“That’s it.” as in “The end” earlier). There is also that deliberately placed adverb, “utterly,” and italicized terms, both of which are pinpricks to (re)turn me to her persistent presentism.

That “turn” and “turning” are also recurring terms in the compilation demands recognizing that this immediacy is not stone-solid. This kind of movement-within-now is highly suggestive, I believe, and I want to conclude with a remarkable passage shwoing how (“Thaw”, p256):

It was like this:
someone turned your way.
It was a free turn. It was made by them freely.
And what they did then was this.
You had done something. You
seemed to become un-
masked. You
had done something you should not have done. You felt in you that u
wished you had not.
And they did something with their free face,
they tossed it out at you,
a thing not yours to dial-up or own – a thing free – a free thing –
they forgave you.
You are not sure you know what this means. But you are sure this happened once. You
were a thing
that required it.
And it was a thing which was not exact, not on time, not wired-in,
which was able to arrive in
time – just in time – & could be
given.

This I read not as hope or love, it is not resignation, nor does it sound like the earlier “a huge pity” but rather: rings honest, even in the irony, and like a bell-weather, can’t be un- rung.

XVI

So what? What does this tell me about the climate emergency?

My answer in recasting her insights turns to an older optic, and one more familiar in my profession. I stand in a fast-flowing creek and the pebbles below look like luminous treasure in the refracted sunlight. I am of course disappointed when I scoop a handful up and take the closer look. It’s nothing like treasure. Until I see that “true as a wet stone’s shine” I have also been handed (in the phrase of Sally Festing, poet). Where are we registering that version of “shine” in the Anthropocene?

Principal source

Jorie Graham (2022). [To] The Last [Be] Human. Introduction by Robert MacFarlane. Copper Canyon Press: Port Townsend, WA

Climate justice?

I

Three decades ago, Jon Elster wrote Local Justice: How Institutions Allocate Scarce Goods and Necessary Burdens (1992, Russell Sage Foundation: New York). It’s of interest today because one of its enduring points has been that not only can local justice systems lead to global injustice, global justice systems can lead to local injustices. I end with a pastoralism illustration.

First, his definitions:

Local justice can be contrasted with global justice. Roughly speaking, globally redistributive policies are characterized by three features. First, they are designed centrally, at the level of the national government. Second, they are intended to compensate people for various sorts of bad luck, resulting from the possession of ’morally arbitrary properties.’ Third, they typically take the form of cash transfers [e.g., think reparations]. Principles of local justice differ on all three counts. They are designed by relatively autonomous institutions which, although they may be constrained by guidelines laid down by the center, have some autonomy to design and implement their preferred scheme. Also, they are not compensatory, or only partially so. A scheme for allocating scarce medical resources may compensate patients for bad medical luck, but not for other kinds of bad luck (including the bad luck of being turned down for another scarce good). Finally, local justice concerns allocation in kind of goods (and burdens), not of money.

Elster (1992, p4)

The semi-autonomous institutions are local in three senses: arena, country and locality. Different arenas, such as organ transplantation, college admissions and job layoffs, follow different principles: “Need is central in allocating organs for transplantation, merit in admitting students to college and seniority in selecting workers for layoffs” in the US. Allocative principles vary by country as well: “In many European countries, need (as measured by number of family dependents) can be a factor in deciding which workers to lay off”. Lastly, allocative principles can also vary by locality within the same country or arena, as with the case of local transplantation centers in the US.

In short, complexity in local justice systems comes not just from the fact that the goods are scarce, heterogeneous and in kind and that the sites of allocation may well be local in multiple senses. Local justice systems vary also because principles are tied to complex (and not always certain) arrays of criteria, mechanisms, procedures, and schemes.

II

Local justice systems have clear implications. Not only are they not designed to compensate for global injustices, they can actually lead to those injustices:

From childhood to old age, [the individual] encounters a succession of institutions, each of which has the power to give or deny him some scarce good. In some cases the cumulative impact of these decisions may be grossly unfair. We can easily imagine an individual who through sheer bad luck is chosen for all the necessary burdens and denied all the scarce goods, because in each case he is just below the cutoff point of selection. To my knowledge this source of injustice has not been recognized so far…. Those who are entrusted with the task of allocating a scarce good rarely if ever evaluate recipients in the light of their past successes or failures in receiving other goods. Local justice is largely noncompensatory. There is no mechanism of redress across allocative spheres….

[B]y the nature of chance events, some individuals will miss every train: they are turned down for medical school, chosen by the draft lottery, laid off by the firm in a recession, and refused scarce medical resources; in addition, their spouse develops cancer, their stocks become worthless, and their neighborhood is chosen for a toxic waste dump. It is neither desirable nor possible to create a mechanism of redress to compensate all forms of cumulative bad luck. For one thing, the problems of moral hazard would be immense [i.e. if people knew they were going to be compensated for whatever happened to them, they could take more risks and thereby incur more harm]. For another, the machinery of administering redress for bad luck would be hopelessly complex and costly.

(Ibid 133-4)

If so, local justice clearly can lead to global injustice.

III

But just as clearly from a local justice perspective, the global justice promised in, say, climate justice (e.g., via reparations), leads to local injustices, when the former is implemented uniformly over an otherwise differentiated landscape. One thinks immediately of how to define an “extreme event” that triggers automatic debt relief.

To expand, the more uniform the application of climate justice policies, the greater the local pressure for suitably heterogeneous applications, if not alternatives. But the more heterogeneous on the ground, the greater the chance of global injustice arising from lack of coordination and cross-learning on the ground.

In this way, just as it is not possible for local justice systems to compensate for the global injustices they create, so too it may well not be possible for global justice systems to compensate for the local injustices they create, at least in any timely way or coverage.

IV

So what? For one thing, the continued insistence that global climate justice involves money transfers (as distinct from in-kind compensation typical of local justice systems) ends up further monetarizing a global environment that local systems take to be quite otherwise.

In so doing and arguably much more important, the insistence obscures the huge importance of in-kind compensations at the local level. Think here of the livestock sharing systems (e.g., khlata in Tunisia and mafisa in Botswana). These are local justice systems irrespective of the livestock involved being methane producers from the global climate perspective. Indeed, I can’t think of a better example of global climate justice at odds with local justice systems, globally.

A major rethinking of the operations of critical infrastructures

I

The signal problem with current concepts and methods for critical infrastructure operations is that, while most everyone acknowledges infrastructures are interconnected, descriptions of their interconnected operations continue to assume that the stages of operation–normal, disrupted, failed, recovered–by a single infrastructure serve as the best template for describing and differentiating those operations. 

As a heuristic, this might cause little practical harm, but usage is very misleading under other conditions.

There is no shared benchmark for “normal operations” for critical infrastructures, and certainly the sense that one set of “normal operations” is the apogee to which all other infrastructures aspire borders on the whiggish interpretation of history. There isn’t a “life cycle” of a critical infrastructure, if by that is meant one stage follows another until it, the single now-mature infrastructure, is superseded by something newer and fresh.

II

Infrastructure operations are better thought of as punctuated by different shifts and configurations in interconnectivity, control variables, improvisational behavior, and standards to which management and operations aspire. How the specific combinatorics play out is an empirical question. What can be said is this: The risks and uncertainties differ significantly across these punctuated operations. This is not as banal as it seems.

It isn’t just that estimated probabilities, consequences and associated hazards can give way to nonmeasurable uncertainties and disproportionate impacts with having at times to operate blind. It’s that the modes of operation change and with them the nature of unpredictabilities. What was operating within official bandwidths can shift entirely to improvisational behavior best understood as working with what is then and there.

It isn’t just that standards of what is and is not reliable service provision are changing. It’s also that other standards necessarily come into play or are modified because the interconnections, shifts and variables change. It isn’t just that one interconnectivity configuration, like sequential or serial dependency, is too often conflated with one stage of operations (e.g., “routine normal operations”). Rather the same configuration surfaces in a reconfigured mix with the other interconnections and hybrid configurations over time.

(To be continued)