Debating uncertainty and complexity in pastoral systems

PASTRES has been on tour. As the project starts up, we are keen to get as much feedback from as many people as possible. We want to open up conversations, seek out new networks and share the sense of excitement about our work.

Following a successful seminar at the Schumann Centre’s Global Governance Programme at the European University Institute in Florence, the project was presented as part of a series on ‘complexity’ at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Next stop, Germany, and a series of talks at the universities of Bayreuth, Leipzig and at the Max-Planck Institute in Halle. We are planning more, so look out for notices on our Twitter feed.

You can listen to a presentation on PASTRES as it was presented at Sussex here, including the slides (starts at 4.33 properly).

Our ideas and questions are constantly evolving thanks to the fantastic discussions that the talks have provoked. If you have your own comments on the project, please add them below. Or get in touch in some other way. We’d really love to hear from you!

So far, the comments have fallen into a number of categories:

First, and most common, is, wow, this is madly ambitious, but really interesting… but how on earth are you going actually to do it? This is a question we ask ourselves too. The European Research Council who are funding this are keen to break barriers, and seek new breakthroughs. ‘High risk, high gain’ is their mantra. We have taken this to heart. We don’t know if we will achieve everything we set out to do, but we are going to try! And we will need help, so as it says at the end of the presentation – please join the conversation!

Second, why the three cases, aren’t they so different comparisons will be difficult? We are not aiming for a strict comparative study, but we are aiming to draw lessons from each case. In this sense the cases can stand alone; each will have fascinating things to learn about living from and with uncertainty. We also wanted diverse cases to explore the range of pastoral settings, each connected to new processes of economic globalisation. Dryland, montane and Mediterranean systems cover a good range, so we can tease out different influences of ecosystem dynamics and resource characteristics. But three sites will never be enough, so one of the first things we are doing is scouring the literature for insights from all regions, aiming for a typology within which our particular cases will fit.

Third, how are you going to connect pastoralism with financial systems or critical energy infrastructure? Surely they are so different? Yes they are, but that’s the point. Looking at system characteristics however also points to important similarities. Complex networks, mobility, opportunistic tracking, learning and adaptive response are all features that give rise to or respond to uncertainty in all these settings. The aim is not to seek parallels, but to encourage conversations. If opaque, non-transparent, extensive networks gave rise to the instability and later collapse in the global banking system, how are networks managed in pastoral economies? If mobility is essential for survival in pastoral systems responding to uncertain rainfall and variable fodder availability, how can this help us think about migration and mobility policy more generally? And so on.

Later in the year we will be having a session together with EUI colleagues working on global migration policy; last year we had a brilliant workshop with Emery Roe who works on critical infrastructure for high reliability energy supply in California (as well as pastoralism in the past). We will be convening others soon. If you have suggestions, please be in touch!

There were many more questions of course on the detail, but we have been encouraged by the response so far. And we are only just getting going. Watch this space for more reflections, events and results, and don’t forget to sign up to the PASTRES mailing list, and this regular blog!

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