Absentee Livestock Ownership and Social Differentiation in Pastoral Tunisia

In this series of blog posts, we have been introducing the PhD students in the PASTRES project, who are currently doing fieldwork in sites around the world. In this post we’ll hear from Linda Pappagallo, who is currently conducting fieldwork in Tunisia, followed by a short video where she explains her work.

Read on for a summary of her research.

Absentee Livestock Ownership and Social Differentiation in Pastoral Tunisia 

Focusing on southern Tunisia, this research aims to understand the ways in which livestock is a means to accumulate capital in neoliberal contexts where social mobility is already constrained, but where various forms of absentee livestock ownership operate; beyond bounded conceptions of “communities” and “capital”. 

This research asks: How do different forms of absentee livestock and land ownership, following the 2011 revolution in Tunisia, influence patterns of social differentiation within pastoral communities? 

Following the revolution in 2011, Tunisia’s southern dryland pastoral areas have been experiencing high levels of out migration from rural areas, with remittances used to overcome local constraints to social mobility and the depreciating Tunisia dinar. Furthermore, since 2011, livestock and land investors, particularly from coastal regions, are seizing opportunities as decentralization and the new government are reconfiguring power relations in rural areas, again affecting trajectories of accumulation.   

These are features of an agrarian transition, which can be observed in other rural economies characterized by an expansion of ‘semi-proletarians’, ‘petty-commodity traders’ and ‘pluriactive’ households. The emergence of waged and non-waged, farm and off-farm activities, have resulted in the proliferation of distinctive institutional arrangements with new contractual arrangements, and “fragmented classes of labour”, within an extremely differentiated rural society. 

Both migrants and outside investors, may be considered as ‘absentees’ in academic or policy-oriented discourses where, typically – but not always – a defining feature is of managing livestock or land through an intermediary or through other forms of contractual relationships. As such, absenteeism is understood as producing an indirect relationship between “owning” and “managing” livestock or land.  

This research seeks to unpack the notion of ‘absenteeism’ by focusing on migrants and outside investors, and their relations with areas of pastoral production. Although absentees may not be physically present, or not-resident, in the area where the livestock or land investment is being made, they are still very much involved in shaping resource distribution and rural livelihoods. Far from being ‘absent’, absentees may be vital players in fast-changing pastoral economies, resulting in new land and labour relations, and new sources of capital and investment; particularly given the deepening complexity of patterns of social differentiation in multilocal spaces. 

Three detailed questions focus on the actors, drivers of accumulation, and patterns of social differentiation. 

1. What are the profiles of the different forms of absentee livestock and landowners in the pastoral community? How have patterns of absenteeism changed since 2011? 

2. How do migrants and outside investors use different mixes of financial (remittances, savings/loans, subsidy transfers), human (herding contracts) and social (power/networks) resources to manage livestock and accumulate capital? 

3. What processes have increased social differentiation and what processes have reduced social differentiation? How have these processes affected livestock production and management? 

This study will focus on one relatively small community in southern Tunisia in the dryland region of Tataouine, in southern Tunisia.  

  • Tataouine is a region that up until the end of the 1980s presented a strong flow of international emigration, with remittances representing an important share of household income. 
  • The area’s agricultural transformation, and capitalist infiltration, is relatively recent, making it feasible to trace transformations through a historical livelihood analysis.  
  • It is geographical marginal relative to other regions, as a southern dryland region bordering Libya and Algeria, and has attracted informal trade – of livestock in particular.  
  • Through economic liberalization, more than two thirds of collective lands have been privatized. State incentives encourage intensification of cereal production, olive oil, pistachio and almonds, coupled with extensive investments in irrigation. 
  • The commitment towards decentralization is restructuring governance systems, rangeland governance is now becoming a focus of contestation in the area.  

Tataouine therefore provides an excellent context to assess the relevant dynamics of migration, outside investment, land appropriation and distribution, livestock investment and rangeland governance, and through these themes the relationships between pastoralism and uncertainty. 

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

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