10: Class dynamics, social difference and changing social relations in pastoral areas

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This lecture by Ian Scoones explores how processes of social differentiation and patterns of accumulation, linked to the emergence of different ‘classes’, can be understood, drawing on critical agrarian studies. How does this apply to pastoral settings, sometimes assumed to be egalitarian, governed by ‘custom’ and ‘tradition’?

Much empirical work points to increasing differentiation in pastoral systems, with some ‘moving up and out’, while others are stuck, or exit the system altogether. This varies by gender and by age, as well as over time, as particular shocks (drought, famine, war) result in major reconfigurations. The kin and community-based social relations that maintained (at least an impression of) homogeneity within pastoral groups, supported by systems of reciprocity and mutualism, have changed.

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A more individualised, differentiated society, subject to market dynamics, invites a class analysis distinguishing those accumulating (hiring in labour, investing in livestock, maybe land etc.) as part of a class of a local capitalist elite and those poorer pastoralists, who may be selling labour or diversifying livelihood activities, as part of the ‘fragmented classes of labour’ in pastoral areas. But there are of course features of pastoralism – such as collective land and livestock holdings, mobility and livestock as a source of capital – that limit the parallels with peasant societies. Transitions to commercial, capitalist livestock production in pastoral areas has become possible for some as market opportunities open up, leaving others behind. The implications of such changes for labour, land access and market activity can be profound, suggesting very different futures for pastoral areas with highly differentiated populations.

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  • What are the sites of accumulation in pastoral areas? Who are the winners and losers?
  • What processes of social differentiation are evident, driven by what processes?
  • How is this influencing class formation, as well as gender and age divisions?
  • What are the implications for labour dynamics in pastoral areas?


Photo credit: Masresha Taye

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