1-2 of 2 Results  for:

  • Keywords: ecology x
  • Sociocultural Anthropology x
Clear all


J. Terrence McCabe

Rangelands cover more of the earth’s surface (25–45 percent) than any other type of land. The primary livelihood strategy for people living in these lands is the raising of livestock, with an estimated thirty million people in Africa alone depending on livestock for their basic subsistence. Pastoral people are found all over the world, and regardless of what continent on which they are found, the environments in which they live are characterized as marginal, being too dry or cold for cultivation. These ecosystems are also subject to unpredictable extreme events, most commonly droughts. The impact of the environment on pastoral people’s decision-making and livelihoods and the impact of livestock on the environment have been the subject of anthropological inquiry since the 1940s. Beginning with E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s work in the Sudan and Owen Lattimore’s work in China, many aspects of the literature on pastoralism have developed in concert with the larger literature on ecological and environmental anthropology. How to define pastoralism has also been the subject of anthropological debate, and how to define a livelihood as “pastoral” has been complicated by more recent research revealing that people have moved in and out of livestock keeping for millennia. However, the degree to which people depend on livestock, both in terms of subsistence and identity, lies at the core of any definition of pastoralism. In many respects, the anthropological and ecological study of pastoralism has led the way in the theoretical development of the study of human/environment relationships. Theoretical advances have also had important policy implications. The idea that pastoralism will inevitably lead to environmental degradation (the tragedy of the commons argument) has influenced governments and development agencies to advocate for reduced mobility and reduction of the number of livestock kept by pastoral households. This understanding has been challenged by an examination of rangelands as nonequilibrium systems, which would require a rethinking of pastoral development policies and programs. Now ecological anthropologists and other social scientists are examining the resilience of these coupled social and ecological systems as rangeland ecosystems are increasingly fragmented and subject to climate change.


Philip Carl Salzman

Pastoralists depend for their livelihood on raising livestock on natural pasture. Livestock may be selected for meat, milk, wool, traction, carriage, or riding, or a combination. Pastoralists rarely rely solely on their livestock; they may also engage in hunting, fishing, cultivation, commerce, predatory raiding, and extortion. Some pastoral peoples are nomadic and others are sedentary, while yet others are partially mobile. Economically, some pastoralists are subsistence oriented, others are market oriented, and others combining the two. Politically, some pastoralists are independent or quasi-independent tribes, others, largely under the control of states, are peasants, while yet others are citizens engaged in commercial production in a modern state. All pastoralists have to address a common set of issues: gaining and taking possession of livestock, including good breeding stock. Ownership of livestock may consist of individual, group, or distributed rights, managing the livestock through husbandry and herding. Husbandry is selecting animals for breeding and maintenance. Herding is ensuring that the livestock gains access to adequate pasture and water. Pasture access can be gained through territorial ownership and control, purchase, rent, and patronage. Security must be provided for the livestock through active human oversight or restriction by means of fences or other barriers. Manpower is provided by kin relations, exchange of labor, barter, monetary payment, or some combination of these. Prominent pastoral peoples are sheep, goat, and camel herders in the arid band running from North Africa through the Middle East and northwest India, the cattle and small stock herders of Africa south of the Sahara, reindeer herders of the sub-Arctic northern Eurasia, the camelid herders of the Andes, and the ranchers of North and South America.