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MIASU Seminar: Thomas White

When Apr 26, 2016
from 04:30 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Seminar Room, The Mond Building, Free School Lane
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Thomas White (University of Cambridge)

Nomadism Without the Nomads:
‘Ecological Pastoralism’ and the Uses of Human-Animal Detachment in Inner Mongolia

Since the 1980s, the privatization of pastureland in Inner Mongolia, China, has significantly reduced the mobility of pastoralists in this arid region. In recent years local governments in Inner Mongolia have also implemented strict stocking limits and grazing bans, as pastoralists and their animals are blamed for the deterioration of the grasslands. The Chinese state now promotes the idea of ‘ecological civility’ (shengtai wenming), and seeks to encourage ‘modernised’ forms of animal husbandry. These involve removing animals from the grasslands and raising them on fodder in pens. Drawing on fieldwork conducted Alasha, in western Inner Mongolia, this paper examines the ways in which this model of animal husbandry is being contested, showing how this has involved a strategic focus on the behaviour of a single animal: the domestic Bactrian camel. Local ethnic Mongolian intellectuals, in collaboration with several prominent Chinese grassland scientists, point to the environmentally beneficial behaviour of the camel when left to roam over a wide area with minimal human intervention. They argue that new technology, such as GPS collars and automatic watering troughs, means that human-animal proximity is no longer necessary, and claim that the ‘nomadic’ (youmu) movement (of animals) is compatible with urbanisation (of herders). In contrast to the recent focus in anthropology on engagement, mutuality and social interaction in human-animal relations, this paper explores practices of human-animal detachment, highlighting their political expediency. It shows how Mongolian traditions of land and animal management are currently being reimagined in the context of the state’s emphasis on ‘ecological civility’.

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