And yet you thought differently to this point. . .

–“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.”

–“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.”

–“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.”

–“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.”

–“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.”

–“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.”

–“‘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.’”

–“Finally, the 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”.

–“These findings potentially also shed light on why the [US] 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.”

–“Seen from the [Global] South, we argue that although there has been expansion of financial motives and practices the ‘divorce’ between the financial and the productive economy cannot be considered a new empirical phenomenon having occurred during the last decades and even less an epochal shift of the capitalist system. The tendency for finance to neglect the needs of the domestic productive sector has been the structural operation of finance in many parts of the Global South over the last 150 years.”

–“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.”

–“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.”

–“While platforms in the gig labor sector have undoubtedly amassed considerable power, these approaches run the risk of overstating it. In contrast to Facebook, Google, or Amazon, most gig labor platforms offer in-person, local services for which network externalities are limited, thereby reducing a potent source of monopolistic power. Furthermore, many of them have not yet been capable of earning profits, which may limit their future reach. With respect to algorithmic control, a growing literature reveals the ways in which earners can learn to resist and “out- smart” algorithms . And as we note below, our research finds that the ability of algorithms and ratings to discipline and control workers varies considerably, both within and across platforms. With respect to the precarity approach, it downplays the technological innovations associated with platform work. It also tends not to recognize the ways in which gig earnings that supplement other sources reduce workers’ overall financial precarity, rather than increase it.”

Citations available on request

Pastoralism as a global infrastructure (new material)

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.

I could go on, 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.

To put the point formally: 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 that I’ve been reluctant to set out, because the 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.

–To see why, 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)

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.

Related sources

Collins, F.L. (2021). “Geographies of migration I: Platform migration.” Progress in Human Geography 45(4): 866–877

F. Dafe, S. B. Hager, N. Naqvi, and L. Wansleben (2022). “The structural power of finance meets financialization” in Special Issue of Politics & Society (accessed online on September 7 2022 at http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/115782/1/Navqi_the_structural_power_of_finance_meet_financialization_accepted.pdf)

Dafermos, Y., D. Gabor, M. Nikolaidi, and F. van Lerven (2022). “Greening collateral frameworks.” Policy Briefing Paper 07 in the INSPIRE Sustainable Central Banking Toolbox, The International Network for Sustainable Financial Policy Insights, Research, and Exchange (INSPIRE), http://www.inspiregeenfinance.org.

D’Angelo, A. (2021). “The networked refugee: The role of transnational networks in the journeys across the Mediterranean.” Global Networks 1–13

Doorn, van N. and D. Vijay (2021). “Gig work as migrant work: The platformization of migration infrastructure.” EPA: Economy and Space: 1-21

Konaka, S. (2021). “Reconsidering the Resilience of Pastoralism from the Perspective of Reliability: The Case of Conflicts between the Samburu and the Pokot of Kenya, 2004-2009.” Nomadic Peoples, 25(2): 253-277

Krätli, S. and C. Toulmin (2020). Farmer-Herder Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa? IIED, London

Roe, E. (2020). A New Policy Narrative for Pastoralism? Pastoralists as Reliability Professionals and Pastoralist Systems as Infrastructure, STEPS Working Paper 113, STEPS Centre: Brighton, UK

Schapendonk, J. (2021). “Counter moves. Destabilizing the grand narrative of onward migration and secondary movements in Europe.” International Migration: 1 – 14  DOI:10.1111/imig.12923

Xiang, B. and J. Lindquist (2014). “Migration infrastructure.” International Migration Review 48(1): S122–S148

People may be as equal as the teeth of a comb, but all those different combs!

–The temptation is to see to see, really see, a complex issue like inequality from all its sides: as if in the clear light of day and around which we can walk and examine , close-up and from a distance and all directions. Were that not complicated enough, there is the insistence that what we call our values shine brightly throughout doing so.

We miss much in the inevitable glare. Issues come into view as if herms, partial torsos held upright on thin shafts. What’s left to see ends up marking what’s missing or missed. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and J-J Rousseau’s The Social Contract have a good deal to say about inequality, but part of that is by way of serving as fragments signaling larger unfinished works. So what, you ask? What’s in need of our values more than inequality today?

–None of this would be the problem it is, were it not for how easy it is to mistake a value for different contexts and particularities.

It just isn’t that values are socially constructed. It’s that any smothering paste of statistical or macro-inequality cannot resist the bubbling up and surfacing of all those contingent factors that differentiate inequalities–societal, political, economic, historical, cultural, legal, geographical, governmental, psychological, neurological, technological, religious, and more–these being precisely for complex policy and management on the ground and in practice.

–So what?

The World Bank estimates over 1.5 billion people globally do not have bank accounts, many being the rural poor. Yet having bank accounts ties us into a global infrastructure of financialized capitalism. What, then, is to have more value? The rural poor with bank accounts or not? Integrated even more into global capitalism or not?

There are those who insist this is not a binary value choice. Many with bank accounts also work to change the upper reaches of financial capital. But there are also those aiming for lower-reach specifics: Surely, answers require going down to the case level. Bank accounts work in some instances and even then differently so, while not in others.

Of course, values don’t disappear with specifics, but it is within contexts that fairness, justice and rights become adverbial, i.e., this is what it means to act fairly and rightly–or at best good enough–here and now and not without contestation, even if never everywhere and always. Plus no one, as far as I can make out, believes that inequality must first be reduced in order to reduce cases of hunger—yet inequality receives far more attention in many quarters.

–Insisting on case-by case looks to be weak beer. That is, until you realize the self-harm inflicted when political possibilities are foreclosed by a policy narrative that assumes the world is colonized by capitalisms and their irreducible inequalities.

Where else are we going to find the counternarratives if not in these really-existing cases and their modifications or extensions? There is no need to search out or recast the “not-yet” and the “yes, but” of specific contexts, if the fragments we call “unequal relations” are denied their meaning within and across situations palpably more diverse and contingent than values and capitalisms.

E.H. Carr, the British historian, advised his students that “before you study history, study the historian.” So too with inequality–this being less an argument for biographies of those involved than ethnographies of zones of action in which they and others found and find themselves.

When has war not been a kind of life?

–I finished reading the Collected Critical Writings of Geoffrey Hill, which discussed a poet I don’t remember reading before, Ivor Gurney. Which in turn sends me to his poems, which leads me to his “War Books” from World War I and the following lines:

What did they expect of our toil and extreme
Hunger - the perfect drawing of a heart's dream? 
Did they look for a book of wrought art's perfection,
Who promised no reading, nor praise, nor publication? 
Out of the heart's sickness the spirit wrote
For delight, or to escape hunger, or of war's worst anger,
When the guns died to silence and men would gather sense
Somehow together, and find this was life indeed….

“What did they expect of our toil and extreme/Hunger—the perfect drawing of a heart’s dream?” reminded me of an anecdote from John Ashbery, the poet, in one of his essays:

Among Chuang-tzu’s many skills, he was an expert draftsman. The king asked him to draw a crab. Chuang-tzu replied that he needed five years, a country house, and twelve servants. Five years later the drawing was still not begun. ‘I need another five years,’ said Chuang-tzu. The king granted them. At the end of these ten years, Chuang-tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke, he drew a crab, the most perfect crab ever seen.

It’s as if Chuang-tzu’s appetite—his form of hunger—did indeed produce the perfect drawing. Gurney’s next two lines, “Did they look for a book of wrought art’s perfection,/Who promised no reading, no praise, nor publication?” reminds me of very different story, seeming to make the opposite point (I quote from Peter Jones’ Reading Virgil: Aeneid I and II):

Cicero said that, if anyone asked him what god is or what he is like, he would take the Greek poet Simonides as his authority. Simonides was asked by Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse, the same question, and requested a day to think about it. Next day Hiero demanded the answer, and Simonides begged two more days. Still no answer. Continuing to double up the days, Simonides was eventually asked by Hiero what the matter was. He replied, ‘The longer I think about the question, the more obscure than answer seems to be.’

I think Hiero’s question was perfect in its own right by virtue of being unquestionably unanswerable. In the case of Chuang-tzu, what can be more perfect than the image that emerges, infallibly and unstoppably, from a single stroke? In the case of Simonides, what can be more insurmountable than the perfect question without answer?

–Yet here is Gurney providing the same answer to each question: War ensures the unstoppable and insurmountable are never perfect opposites—war, rather, patches them together as living: Somehow together, and find this too is life.

Ashbery records poet, David Schubert, saying of the great Robert Frost: “Frost once said to me that – a poet – his arms can go out – like this – or in to himself; in either case he will cover a good deal of the world.”

Take-offs are optional, landings aren’t

. . .[Lucretius] imagines observing, from the safety of the shore, other people who are at peril on the storm-tossed sea. . .

Hans Blumenberg (1997). Shipwreck with Spectator: Paradigm of a metaphor for existence. Translated by Steven Rendall, The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA

It’s that “from the safety of the shore” that I want to interrogate. The original German, “vom festen Ufer her” (roughly, “from the solid shore”) follows Blumenberg’s point that terra firma was the best place to be according to early Roman users of the shipwreck metaphor. In this entry, though, I want to focus on the ambiguities raised in epigraph’s translation of the phrase.

–Start this way: Is safety on the ship (say, before the shipwreck) the same kind of safety as on the shore (say, before the earthquake)?

It seems to me that answers like, “in principle safe, even if not having the same practices” or “by virtue of their respective safety cultures, albeit differently,” move to abstraction just at the moment answers, if there are any, require: safety with respect to what?

–So, let’s get specific.

Stormy seas and earthquakes both entail being tossed about. Are we unsafe in the same way when tossed across the ship or across the road by the respective events?

That informed people still stay in earthquake zones and sail in stormy seas even if they can move away from both tells you something about their preferences for safety with respect to the known unknowns of where they live and work versus safety with respect to unknown-unknowns of being pushed rather than pulled to “getting away.”

What’s better than reliable operations buttressed by thoughtful emergency preparedness?

–Those who told us, “You can’t plan for a catastrophic event,” and those who said, “I actually don’t believe every emergency is unique,” need not be at odds. Catastrophes differ from other emergencies, and the interviewees are, I believe, pointing to different sets of interconnections and configurations: the latter more circumscribed as “local,” the former more as “well beyond that!”

One interviewee expressed that they were best when following plans and another at their best when surprised by the unexpected. Operations people seem like cowboys to the engineer department because both are talking about different sets of interconnectivities: We are at best when what we plan applies to emergency preparedness, while we are best when what we improvise applies to actual response. “I don’t think you respond to 92 breaks in 13 days without having the ability to adapt on the fly,” said a city’s water distribution manager.

–So what?

Well, that can be quickly answered!

It is easy to forget that even in the so-called advanced world, domestic running water – for toilets, cooking, personal hygiene, washing clothes and dishes – is a very recent and ephemeral phenomenon, dating back less than a century. In 1940, 45% of households in the US lacked complete plumbing; in 1950, only 44% of homes in Italy had either indoor or outdoor plumbing. In 1954, only 58% of houses in France had running water and only 26% had a toilet. In 1967, 25% of homes in England and Wales still lacked a bath or shower, an indoor toilet, a sink and hot- and cold-water taps. In Romania, 36% of the population lacked a flushing toilet solely for their household in 2012 (down to 22% in 2021). . .

Marco D’Eramo (2022). “Odourless Utopia.” NLF Sidecar (accessed on line at https://newleftreview.org/sidecar/posts/odourless-utopia?pc=1464)

That is: It’s too early to decide, even case by case, what’s better than reliable operations buttressed by thoughtful emergency preparedness.

The shipwreck has happened: Holding onto debris, can you and others make a raft, then convert it into a boat, then build to a better vessel, still using what’s around, including that now of other shipwrecks?

–Has the shipwreck already happened, but we don’t acknowledge it? That is, even though the physical shaking has yet to happen in the Pacific Northwest, is the magnitude 9.0 earthquake a catastrophe unfolding right now, before our eyes up to, during and after the actual shaking?

If state residents are falling short of being “two-week ready” after the quake (in terms of being on their own with two weeks’ worth of supplies), what should be going on in the weeks and months before? For symmetry’s purpose, the events leading up to the quake are part of that unfolding disaster.

–To phrase the challenge this way is to change the usual shipwreck metaphor of being observed from the safety of the shore: Either the ship is constantly rebuilt at sea after a storm when no option to return to port, or those who survive a shipwreck seize whatever is at hand to stay afloat, only later to be tossed up on the shore if at all.

One such recasting of the metaphor is that of German philosopher, Paul Lorenzen:

If there is no attainable solid ground, then the ship must already have been built on the high seas; not by us, but by our ancestors. Our ancestors, then, were able to swim, and no doubt — using the scraps of wood floating around — they somehow initially put together a raft, and then continually improved it, until today it has become such a comfortable ship that we do not have the courage any more to jump into the water and start all over again from the beginning.

To extend this metaphor to the M9 case: Even before the physical quaking, we’ve been and are at sea, tossed about and rebuilding our infrastructures with the debris of previous infrastructure shipwrecks.

Indeed, patching up seems to have become such a longstanding practice we see no reason to cast off and search out new ways of doing things. That is, as long as we use can use whatever better debris is around in order to face the storms and worse ones ahead.

–There is certainly some truth in that. Clearly, there are major occasions when we grab whatever is at hand and improvise solutions. Clearly, we continue to build upon already patched up infrastructures (think of the Y2K fears at the turn of the century related to the millennium bug). We’re good at workarounds–though no guarantees.

What hasn’t got as much attention is how even new construction associated with mitigations, say of retrofitting bridges and levees, are nevertheless still patchwork learned from prior failures. Retrofitting and new construction–really when you think about it–are little or no different from workarounds.

At the larger scale, isn’t that the Anthropocene?

Best research method

The Dutch (in general) say things as they are, they don’t mince words or beat around the bush. They say it straight up and direct, whether it’s feedback from your manager, a comment on your new hairstyle or the simple (but direct, with no explanation) “no” when you ask someone for a favour. Yes they are direct. [from the web]

Dutch bluntness has been for me the best methodological advance in my research and interviewing, so far. Method as a counternarrative few interviewees expect.

Pastoralism 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 those migrants to send income back to those households are as well patently various as they are patently evident.

I could go on, 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 tried to 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.

To put the point formally: 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 of the above that I’ve been reluctant to lay out, because the 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.

–To see why, 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 outright 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 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?

But from the perspective of pastoralism-as-infrastructure, 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 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 fragile or already extinct. But pastoralisms, from this infrastructure perspective, don’t wither away unless their process variance withers. That is, what about the other empirically demonstrated ways to graze, herd, be im/mobile, or “be in the market,” case by case? This is not meant to be optimism or an eternal promise of requisite variety. It is meant to be realistic.

–Again, so what? Two quick points follow from this infrastructure perspective, one specific and one general.

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”? 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 systems that have lost labor and expertise.

Second, much is rightly being made about the global financialization of important livelihood sectors, such as agriculture. An important part of the critique is that increased financial flows are being diverted from the real economy investments in production sectors into financialized investment instruments, 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)

But, however, some of the investments must have been in productive sectors and indeed into livestock and mixed livelihood production in drylands, at least if the unit of analysis is global. (Also, surely it’s essential that wealth disparities be differentiated in terms of their investment sources, right?) 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.

Pastoralism-as-infrastructure is no more withering away today that has the state withered away as long prophesied.

Related sources

Collins, F.L. (2021). “Geographies of migration I: Platform migration.” Progress in Human Geography 45(4): 866–877.

F. Dafe, S. B. Hager, N. Naqvi, and L. Wansleben (2022). “The structural power of finance meets financialization” in Special Issue of Politics & Society (accessed online on September 7 2022 at http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/115782/1/Navqi_the_structural_power_of_finance_meet_financialization_accepted.pdf)

D’Angelo, A. (2021). “The networked refugee: The role of transnational networks in the journeys across the Mediterranean.” Global Networks 1–13.

Doorn, van N. and D. Vijay (2021). “Gig work as migrant work: The platformization of migration infrastructure.” EPA: Economy and Space: 1-21.

Konaka, S. (2021). “Reconsidering the Resilience of Pastoralism from the Perspective of Reliability: The Case of Conflicts between the Samburu and the Pokot of Kenya, 2004-2009.” Nomadic Peoples, 25(2): 253-277.

Krätli, S. and C. Toulmin (2020). Farmer-Herder Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa? IIED, London.

Roe, E. (2020). A New Policy Narrative for Pastoralism? Pastoralists as Reliability Professionals and Pastoralist Systems as Infrastructure, STEPS Working Paper 113, STEPS Centre: Brighton, UK.

Schapendonk, J. (2021). “Counter moves. Destabilizing the grand narrative of onward migration and secondary movements in Europe.” International Migration: 1 – 14  DOI:10.1111/imig.12923

Xiang, B. and J. Lindquist (2014). “Migration infrastructure.” International Migration Review 48(1): S122–S148

The best synonym for macro-design is “not noticing”

–“Design” is a trigger-word for me, when it encourages the notion one can macro-design the micro. Anyone who has tried to implement as planned—today’s version of clockmaker God and the echt-rational—knows how plug-and-play designs don’t work, as contingency and context invariably get in the way.

To see how this matters, consider a late poem of Robert Lowell, “Notice,” and a gloss on it by Helen Vendler, the critic. Here’s the poem in its entirety, centering as it does around Lowell’s leaving an asylum after a manic-depressive episode:

Notice

The resident doctor said,
“We are not deep in ideas, imagination or enthusiasm –
how can we help you?”
I asked,
“These days of only poems and depression –
what can I do with them?
Will they help me to notice
what I cannot bear to look at?”

The doctor is forgotten now
like a friend’s wife’s maiden-name.
I am free
to ride elbow to elbow on the rush-hour train
and copy on the back of a letter,
as if alone:
“When the trees close branches and redden,
their winter skeletons are hard to find—”
to know after long rest
and twenty miles of outlying city
that the much-heralded spring is here,
and say,
“Is this what you would call a blossom?”
Then home – I can walk it blindfold.
But we must notice –
we are designed for the moment.

–I take up Vendler’s gloss when she turns to Lowell’s last line:

In becoming conscious of his recovery by becoming aware, literally moment by moment, of his new capacities for the most ordinary actions of life, the poet seems to XXX that ‘we are designed for the moment’—that our consciousness chiefly functions moment by moment, action by action, realization by realization. Biologically, ‘we are designed for the moment’ of noticing.

–What Lowell is doing in the last two lines is also revisiting, I’d like to think, the second line, “We are not deep in ideas, imagination or enthusiasm” and making this point: The designs put upon us by ideas and enthusiasms differ from the noticing designed into us in at least one major respect.

We notice the ideas-that-design because noticing is not an idea. Knee deep in noticing is not being knee deep in ideas or enthusiasms because noticing is a kind of momentary alertness—“Is this what you would call a blossom?”

–So what?

For me, Lowell is spot-on. Macro-designs imposed upon the world are best described as forms of not-noticing. I was once involved in an urban environmental project, where what college students were taught and what they found on the ground were not just different but orthogonal:

  • Vacant lots were said to be ideal for community gardens but could not be used for gardening because prior use had rendered the soils toxic (that is why they were vacant);
  • Daylighting city creeks was recommended to improve public access to a restored natural area. Local residents preferred instead leaving creeks inaccessible rather than opening them to out-of-sight criminal behavior;
  • A clean-up campaign to reduce street litter became something more when the gloves distributed for the effort were pierced by discarded injection needles; and
  • Planting more trees along the street was touted as an ideal urban improvement, but in practice doing so raised liability issues, ranging from tree roots buckling the sidewalk to cutting away those roots rendering the trees more prone to falling.

Had I taken time to notice what other people had already noticed, things might have been different. More formally, the inevitable gap between professed ideals for all cases and actual practices across a run of different cases signals the importance of alertness, not design assumptions, for practice.