15 & 18 April 2015, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford


This workshop is possible thanks to generous funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

The focus of the workshop is threefold: to strengthen the international network of scholars working on issues related to the anthropology of pastoralist peoples and environments, to develop the work of these scholars by including them in a rigorous peer-review and writing process and to produce a series of articles that can form a journal special issue. This shift toward greater inclusivity of multiple anthropologies, as advocated by Marilyn Strathern in her keynote speech at the IUAES 2014 conference in Japan, requires encouragement by an academia that contributes to the enhanced capacity of local academic scholars, a greater exchange of ideas in well known journals, and the ability to interact more frequently with scholars across transboundary regions and at continental and global scales. The concept of the workshop, "Localities and livelihoods in Asian drylands" is to bring regional researchers together to strengthen writing and communication skills, develop new ideas and cooperation within these spaces and to form a network for future institutional as well as individual collaboration. The workshop, book-ended before and after the 3rd Oxford Desert Conference, provides a unique opportunity to develop ideas, engage with an interdisciplinary research community and participate in a proposed special journal issue.

Shared concerns in the field of anthropology and geography of Asian drylands, featuring the Middle East, South, and Inner Asia, include the role of pastoralism in modern society, the impact of changing climates on rural livelihoods, socio-economic development and themes of risk, marginalisation and political transition. Today's warming climates and drought, political instability, globalised economic systems, increased food and water stress and related livelihood patterns have the power to create civil dilemmas and conflict as currently experienced in Syria. Local researchers are at the forefront of developing and communicating dramatic social change; for their research and knowledge to be effective development of capacity, audience and recognition are key factors in influencing current debates, raising policy issues and highlighting processes and means to ameliorate circumstances. The ability to stimulate thought and debate, develop tangible outputs and increase local engagement into the global will have a significant influence on both how anthropology is practiced and its ability to address today's social imperatives as experienced by dryland peoples and regions.

This is an opportune time to build international connections between researchers working with mobile pastoralist peoples and rural livelihoods in arid Asian environments. Dryland regions in West Asia (from Oman through Jordan and Syria), India and Pakistan in South Asia and Mongolia and China in East Asia have large populations of indigenous mobile pastoralists and rural livestock-raisers that engage in diverse livelihood strategies and depend on climate and environmental productivity for human well-being. Each region is unique yet the workshop aims to find common dialogue in order to develop theories and understand practice on social and environmental change through discussion on regional exceptionalism, institutional constraints, the lack of interaction with other scholars and engagement in broader policy debates. The workshop will contribute to anthropology in the short term through producing a special journal issue based on the articles written for the workshop. The long-term benefit will be the connections between anthropology scholars that facilitates future research projects, dialogue, curriculum and dynamism in the field.


The workshop focuses on the interrelated themes of boundaries, risk and agency in order to develop innovations in theoretical frameworks around these issues as they relate to the environment and people of Asian drylands as well as wider concerns within anthropology such as in developing new analysis to understand the state and contemporary governance structures. The topics will be discussed in depth and form the core of the special journal issue proposed as the significant conference outcome. Boundaries, risk and agency encompass the diversity of challenges facing pastoralism and are shared by the three distinct Asian regions featured in the workshop.

Theme 1: Boundaries - Increasing interest in the notion of boundaries as a socio-cultural and space-based phenomenon grounds the workshop discussion and presentations. Exploring issues of boundaries in the context of changing environments affected by climate, local politics and property tenure and state regulatory and administrative efforts are matched by the expression and experience of boundary in cultural practices, livelihood decision-making and religious belief among mobile pastoralists. Shifts in physical, political, social and imagined boundaries will be investigated. The political construction of formalized boundaries established by government institutions, including new systems of property tenure and legal frameworks for claiming space and resources will be explored vis--vis the multiple ways that boundaries are socially constructed and culturally mediated.

Theme 2: Risk - Mobile pastoralists living in a range of arid environments navigate a great variety of environmental risks on a daily and seasonal basis. Today evolving types of land tenure, livestock insurance, international markets, bank loans and financial pressures add a new element to the pastoralist discourse on risk and mitigation strategies at a household and community level. Additionally, formal education, migration, or wage labor may be seen as a way to mitigate social and environmental risks. Risk is further complicated by climate change, resource use by urban centres, agriculture and extractive industries. This theme examines the pastoralist discourse on risk and the diverse tactics and adaptive behavours used to manage risk in different dryland contexts and environments. Resilence in the context of risk is an important theme as it relates to recent literature on the anthropology of mobile peoples.

Theme 3: Agency - The topics to be discussed in this theme include a critical examination of what is meant by agency in the context of mobile pastoralist communites as it relates to livelihood, environment, personhood and experiences of change as well as development and state administrative discourses. How agency is evidenced, exercised and employed will be examined in the context of movement and mobility. An emphasis will be placed on the connection between livestock husbandry and indigenous concepts of agency and how these concepts play out in everyday practice. The role of the state in shaping terrains of agency will be examined in the context of broader network and relations theory.

Workshop Structure

The workshop will be a two-day event on 15 and 18 April 2015 and structured around the larger 3rd Oxford Interdisciplinary Conference over 16-17 April.

Day 1: Wednesday 15 April 2015
  • Morning: Introduction, short research summary by participants. Discussion of major themes.
  • Afternoon: Greater development of boundaries, risk and agency structured around short panel presentations and discussion groups; journal-writing session (participants will have submitted a paper outline in advance), reading/commenting on manuscripts; session on structuring a journal article and use of reference materials (with Oxford librarian), planning of proposed special issue; prepare group-run conference session. Participants with overlapping themes will be encouraged to co-author articles. There will be group discussions after sessions and during tea time.
Oxford Desert Conference, 16-17 April 2015
  • Anthropologists will participate in the conference and present a self-organised session (arranged pre-workshop) relating to 'Localities and Livelihoods in Asian Drylands.' The conference draws together researchers across social and physical sciences for two days of presentations, discussions and interaction on dryland themes.
Day 2: Saturday 18 April 2015
  • Morning: discussion of conference, revisit major themes, presentation/discussion of individual journal paper conceptualisation.
  • Afternoon: meeting and discussion with Mentors - UK-based pastoral experts - who will advice participants throughout the writing process. Breakout sessions on identified issues and questions, refinement of ideas for special issue. Plan future interaction and writing deadlines. There will be group discussions after sessions and during tea time.


  • Bumochir Dulam - Mongolian National University, Mongolia, Anthropology
    Head of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the National University of Mongolia, Dr Bumochir's work focuses on shamanism, local religious practices, pastoralism in Mongolia and China, household and community decision making and household structures.
  • Byambabaatar Ichinkhorloo - Mongolian National University, Mongolia, Anthropology
    Dr Bayambaatar's research focuses on how development projects have been implemented at the local level though ethnographic in-depth studies and how these interventions create competitive power networks among herders.
  • Batbuyan Batjav - Institute of Geography, Mongolia, Social-Economic Geography
    Batbuyan's 25 years of research in the Mongolian countryside delves into the social and now economic forces that affect pastoral engagement, livelihoods, migration and response to repeated climate shocks.
  • Aman Singh - KRAPAVIS Institute, India, Environmental Education
    Aman's work reviving the 'sacred groves' (orans) for Rajasthani pastoralists exemplifies how customary practices are essential to engaging with climate variability and state and economic forces that affect local herders' land use and livelihoods.
  • Nisthasri Awasthi - Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, Anthropology
    As transhumance declines in semi-arid alpine regions of the Himalayas Nisthasri studies the socio-economic importance of migration with respect to present state policies and related community attitudes.
  • Inam Rahim - FRESH Institute, Pakistan, Agricultural Sciences
    Inam focuses on socio-ecological livelihoods and land use among high-mountain pastoralists in Pakistan.
  • Haian Dukhan - University St Andrews, Syria, International Relations - PhD candidate
    Haian's intimate knowledge of tribal pastoral society provides key insight into the multiple changes and stresses in tribal political systems, exclusion and now conflict in Syria.
  • Wassef Al Sekhaneh - Yarmouk University, Jordan, Anthropology
    Research on family and tribal loyalties in the Jordanian Southern Badia identify the unique interdependence between Bedouin households, communities, tribes and the nation-state.
  • Hala Kilani - University College London, Lebanon, Anthropology - PhD Candidate
    Hala's research focuses on how Arab tribes negotiate tradition and modernity in their relationship with the various elements forming their material culture.
  • Salah Mazrui - Independent Scholar, Oman, Anthropology
    After completing his Masters in Anthropology (Cambridge, UK) Salah has interfaced between pastoralists and rural communities and the forces of resource extraction in Oman.

For further queries please contact the 3rd Oxford Interdisciplinary Desert Conference Team:

Dr Troy Sternberg, Ariell Ahearn, Dr Henri Rueff
Oxford Interdisciplinary Desert Conference
School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1865 285070