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Nomadic pastoralism

by Thomas J. Barfield
The Oxford Handbook of World History ()
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Anthropological studies of mobile livestock herders published during the last decade-roughly the period scanned in this review--demonstrate both continuities with and changes from studies published during the previous three decades. The ready availability of research funds during the late 1960s and early 1970s made possible a large number of studies of a wide range of pastoral societies in all parts of the world. This period has also been marked by increased participation by womenin studies of pastoral nomads; by a growing rejection of British structural-functionalism with its assumptions about the boundedness and stability of local systems; by an increased interest in the study of etic as well as emic information; by a great emphasis on analyses of social behavior in terms of individual actions; by a growing sophistication on the part of some anthropologists in applying ecological theory to the analysis of human behavior; and by a greater concern with social change, with economic development, and with the effects of colonial and national governments on "traditional" societies. The increase in the amount of available information, and the shifts in theoretical orientation are reflected in many of the publications about nomadic pastoral societies which have appeared during the last decade. Recent studies clearly demonstrate that among groups who are principally dependent on livestock, and for whomsp atial mobility is regularly employed as a survival strategy, there is an enormous variability in herd managemenst trategies, in social organization, in land tenure, degree of dependence on agricultural products, interactions with outside groups, differentiation of tasks by sex and age, etc. As Spooner (141, p. 3) acknowledges, "there are no features of culture or social organization that are Annual Reviews Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 1980.9:15-61. Downloaded from by Michigan State University Library on 03/13/06. For personal use only. NOMADIC PASTORALISM 17 commonto all nomadso r even that are found exclusively amongn omads." Recent attempts to generalize about pastoralists (44, 58, 72, 140, 141) have proved to be of very limited value in providing insights into the structure and functioning of pastoral societies, because, as this review will document, pastoralism involves contingent responses to a wide range of variables in the physical and social environment. This review will not, therefore, reach any broad general conclusions about the nature of nomadic pastoralism or of nomadic pastoralists. Rather, we will examine some of the specific issues which emerge from anthropological studies of mobile livestock herders published during the last decade. It is not possible in a single review to deal with all the publications about pastoral nomads which have appeared during the 1970s. Therefore, we will omit a number of important issues, regions, and theoretical approaches, despite the fact that they have been dealt with in important recent publica- tions. Although some of the important studies from South America, Southern Europe, and Southwestern Asia are examined in detail in this review, the major focus will be on research on African, and particularly East African, pastoralists.

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