9: Pastoralism and mobility

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In this lecture, Michele Nori explores pastoralism and mobility. Herders and shepherds move seasonally in search for good and better opportunities to take care of their animals and ensure their best performance. In doing so, they take into account medium and longer-term needs of the herds, as well as of the needs of the household and of the rangelands.

Yet pastoral mobility is changing, with new pressures, demands and opportunities reshaping livelihood strategies in pastoral areas. Still, the principle of mobility is retained, but the social practices and technologies change.

A pastoralist guiding a herd of sheep in a dusty landscape, with the sun setting behind hills in the background

Looking through the eyes of pastoralism gives mobility the centrality it deserves in understanding wider societal dynamics. Flows of people, technologies, data, money and commodities define our time. Mobility challenges many ideas that drive policy narratives derived from a settled state perspective, dominated by fixity, settlement, controlled migration, regulated movement, fences and borders.

For many pastoralists, mobility across borders is vital. Complex networks linking kin and others are at the core of market functioning, with flexible movement a response to changing resource availability. Avoiding fixed places for settlement or markets is central to facilitating flexibility and adaptive forms of governance. The ‘mobility turn’ in social sciences, mainly from geography and sociology, forces us to challenge dominant assumptions in science and policy.

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In a pastoral context that you know about:

  • What forms of mobility are important to people’s livelihoods? How have these mobility patterns changed over time? What is moved and who does the moving?
  • What insights from ‘mobility studies’ might enhance our understanding of pastoralism, and vice versa?
  • If mobility is central to successful livelihoods what reframing of policy is required?


Photo credit: Matteo Caravani

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