Rabari on the Road: Pastoral Mobility in Western India

In this series of blog posts, we will introduce the PhD students in the PASTRES project, who are currently doing fieldwork in sites around the world. In this post, we’ll hear from the first of the students, Natasha Maru, with a short video where she explains her work.

Read on for a summary of her research.


The death of pastoral mobility has been predicted time and time again. Yet, not only has mobility persisted but it has also adapted and flourished given changing circumstances. Most social sciences literature on pastoral mobility has focused on its relationship with natural resources or the social relations of paths, but this research aims to focus on the everyday experiences of mobility.  

Applying new conceptualizations from the “mobilities paradigm” to the case of the Rabari pastoralists in western India, the research asks: what can the everyday experiences of pastoral mobility tell us about why it persists and how it relates to changing conditions?  

Emerging from a reflexive web of relationships produced by the unity of land-labour-livestock and embedded within contexts of social and cultural power, these everyday experiences exist as much in conception and experience, in discourse and imagination, as they do tangibly in the form of physical movement. Moreover, they have an impact on everyday routines, ideas of self and group, emotions and elicit affective responses. The knowledge producing power of these emotions in turn feed into how mobility is conceived and organized.  

This research explores how mobility is ‘assembled’ and ‘re-assembled’ at the intersection of mobile worlds and mobile lives as pastoralists forge new paths, relationships and conceptions of mobility. 

Thus mobility draws different entities – human, non-human, and symbolic – into relation with each other and in the process generates social forms and affects. Adapting conceptions of mobility as a multidimensional, affective and relational assemblage, embedded within its own politics, an interpretive ethnographic study of the mobility of the Rabari pastoralists of western India will be undertaken, moving with a particular migrating group. Three sub-questions will be asked:  

  • What interactions constitute the everyday experiences of pastoral mobility? How can they be characterized? 
  • What do these everyday experiences reveal about how pastoralists relate to change? 
  • What is the role of affect in generating and understanding these experiences? 

The Rabari community serves as an apt case for such a study of pastoral mobility as they continue to migrate despite the rapidly shifting political economy of their home state, Gujarat. Although a large pastoral community, they remain a minority population without their own territory in the state that has not only seen rapid industrialization in recent decades, but also land appropriation for commercial agriculture, large-scale infrastructure development and tourism. Rabari pastoralists are embedded within dynamic socio-economic and political milieus that leave mobility a negotiated process and a particular type of embodied experience.  

The overall aim is to develop a new epistemological understanding of pastoral mobility that goes beyond conceptions focused on adaptations to resource availability, encompassing wider dimensions that help explain the persistence of mobility. 

For more on the background of our PASTRES students, see the profiles on our website.

Main image credit: Natasha Maru, PASTRES

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