An altogether different view of pastoralists and pastoralisms

–My starting point—and one I ask you to take seriously—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 imaginaries 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 just how old-fashioned are the dirigiste terms of “livestock, land and labor” in describing pastoralist developments that 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 also: “How do we catch up with and keep abreast of what pastoralists are actually doing?”

But why spend all this 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.

–And vice versa.

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!

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