Institutional Hybridity in Pastoral Land Governance in Amdo Tibet

In our fifth post exploring the work of the PASTRES PhD students, we introduce Palden Tsering who is currently conducting fieldwork in Amdo Tibet. In this post, we will hear from Palden, with a short video where he explains his work.

Read on for a summary of his research.

Institutional Hybridity in Pastoral Land Governance in Amdo Tibet 

The last decades have brought profound changes to both the landscape and the people in Tibet. The gradual state integration has opened the Tibetan plateau to the influence of a wide array of policies directed at developing, modernizing, and recently urbanizing the land and people. With a growing number of highways, railways, and airports, large scale infrastructural investments have connected even the remotest pastoral communities to the booming national and international markets.  

The increasing competition for land, including land grabbing, commercialization, and territorialisation, has frequently resulted in pastoralists losing their right and ability to access land and resources. The traditional mechanisms for negotiating property rights and resource access are therefore reshaped by different actors, resulting in newly emerging institutional arrangements for land control. In China, the assumed necessity to develop the western regions became PRC’s primary concern after de-collectivization and the shift to a market economy in the 1980s. Tibetan pastoral regions have therefore experienced a sequence of interventions by the state, each affecting how land is controlled and accessed. This has resulted in privatization, sedentarization and urbanization.  

However, despite these impositions, how they play out on the ground is complex, involving a range of state and non-state institutions. In the case of land governance in Tibet, various different actors like local government officials, national and local investors, non-governmental organizations, monasteries, kin-based organisations and pastoral community leaders are all involved in decision-making around access and control over land. How these institutions combine in practice around land governance is an under-researched question in pastoral areas.  

In the context of multiple state-based, religious and customary/informal institutions, there are spaces for negotiation and contestation around land control and access to resources. Linking to wider debates about hybrid institutional arrangements in land governance, particularly as responses to uncertainty, this research will explore how different institutions combine, adapt and contest in response to climatic, political, economic and social change. 

Therefore, understanding how institutions interact on an everyday basis around land control and access (land governance) and why the outcomes benefit some and exclude others becomes fundamental. Consequently, this research will explore land governance on the ground through the lens of institutional hybridity and bricolage in the day-to-day life of pastoralists in Amdo Tibet, asking: How do institutions interact in pastoral land governance in Amdo Tibet, with what consequences and for whom? 

Three sub-questions follow: 

  • Which institutions (state, religious and community) are involved in pastoral land governance and what are their roles?  
  • What are the relationships, interactions, and power dynamics between institutions?  What forms of hybridity and bricolage are seen? 
  • How are different pastoralists’ responses to uncertainty affected by such institutional arrangements in land governance? Who is included and excluded? 

This study will focus on two pastoral settings in Amdo Tibet, Qinghai, with contrasting extents of large, state-led investments. Comparing one site, where intensive investment has taken place, linked to tourism development, near Qinghai lake, with another which is more remote, will allow for an exploration of how control over and access to land differs. Using a qualitative case study approach n each site, the research will explore how different institutions interact (combine and compete) in novel arrangements around land access and control in order to confront uncertainty.   

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

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