Another take on livestock pastoralists


  1. Pastoralists are intermedial.

Where pastoralist activities resist fuller point-in-time description, then:

  • Not only is more longitudinal study appropriate, e.g., to see at work a pastoralist’s multiple roles—herder, livestock marketer, youth/elder, etc.
  • Multiple media are also needed to capture the multicursal diversity, e.g., media ranging from participatory mapping to documentaries, with other representational modes in between and beyond.
  • The aim would be to create an intermedial composite of pastoralist activities over time.

Why “intermedial pastoralist”?

  • A composite depiction questions reduced-form development narratives while at the same time calls for more complex ones on which to proceed.
  • A limitation with the current (written/verbal) medium is that if you mention something positive about pastoralist practice, like “managing uncertainty better,” someone—even a colleague—feels compelled to counter, “But you also have to foreground all the threats to pastoralists. . .”
  • An intermedial depiction can usefully complicate any tit-negative for tat-positive interchange.

To rely on single-media of representation, as in conventional research (even with the occasional photo) risks studying not pastoralists, but pastoralists, a trace marker or spoor for what eludes us.

  • So what’s the problem?
  • Answer: Pastoralist are multidimensionally, demonstrably complex—just as are some policy types who disparage them.

  1. Pastoral areas are platforms for meeting and contact in spatially and temporally distributed networks.

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 a good deal of the pastoralism is done off-site in some cases, just as what was once platform trading on the floor of a stock exchange is now done elsewhere on a different platform (e.g., the Hong Kong Stock Exchange).

Or to shift the analogy: If one were writing up a history of pastoral activities at the home site, it would be like writing the history of the UK Parliament isolated to the structure on the Thames. It’s more accurate to say the UK Parliament is a meeting platform or contact zone for members whose parliamentary activities are importantly dispersed. So too pastoralist home sites.


  1. Pastoralist practices, not pastoralism.

Any whiggish temptation is to be resisted when assessing pastoralist systems, i.e., “they have evolved to this point for the better—no, for the worse!” “Better” and “worse” need to be made explicit with respect to pastoralists as intermedial composites networked with changing pastoral sites as hubs for contingent interaction.

This means that extra-care is needed to reflect the fuller set of actually-existing practices that follow from recasting pastoralist areas as meeting platforms and pastoralists as intermedial. How so?

  • I’m not sure 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 have included encrypted communications, secret locations and multiplicity of efforts to counter the informatics of domination and the technologies of coercion.
  • Note the practices fit in—uncomfortably—with the reduced form narratives of national policy types that resident pastoralists are “outside the state’s control.”

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