Dr Ariell Ahearn

Departmental Lecturer in Human Geography

Academic Profile

Prior to becoming Departmental Lecturer in Human Geography, Ariell was the Course Director of the MSc/MPhil in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance and before that an ESRC-GCRF postdoctoral fellow at the School for Geography and the Environment on an independent project called Managing Development and Infrastructure: Understanding State Engagements with Rural Communities in Mongolia. She completed her DPhil from the School for Geography in February 2016. She holds a BA degree in Anthropology from Hartwick College and an MPA from Cornell University in the United States.

Since 2004, Ariell has worked extensively in rural Mongolia with mobile pastoralist communities around land use and rural development issues. She started her research in 2004 studying the guest house and international traveller culture in Ulaanbaatar. From 2006-2007 she held a US Fulbright Fellowship in Mongolia to study international development discourse related to herder livelihoods. Her DPhil work from 2012-2016 consisted of an ethnography focused on the governance of pastoralism and changing forms of work in rural Mongolia.

In 2016 she engaged as an expert on a multi-disciplinary team to conduct a qualitative analysis of herder livelihoods and socio-economic changes related to the Oyu Tolgoi mega mine complex in the South Gobi Desert. From this work, Ariell's research focus has become concerned with understanding the impacts of mines and infrastructure investment (particularly Belt and Road Projects) in rural Mongolia, Central and South Asia (mostly Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan) and implications for politics and formations of the state in this region.

Current Research

Ariell's current research aims to understand the relationship between social systems, resource distribution and governance frameworks in regions undergoing economic transformation. She specializes in qualitative, participatory research, using methods such as ethnographic participant observation, interviewing, mapping and immersive field work to document and analyse the conditions that inform human decision-making and organization.

Her current projects cluster around the following themes:

1. Mobile Pastoralism

Mobile pastoralists live in dryland environments around the world and face discrimination against mobile livelihoods, challenges from land grabbing, marginalization from social services, and climate hazards. On the other hand, pastoralists are experts in managing climate variability and have critical expertise, knowledge and skills to offer the climate adaptation agenda.

Ariell's research focuses on contemporary pastoralist livelihoods and forms of work in Mongolia, with particular attention to understanding how pastoralists negotiate their rights to practise mobility and engage as political actors on multiple scales. Recently her work in Mongolia has become increasingly focused on herder-mine interactions, transformations in the rural economy (including land, livestock and infrastructure), and social aspirations related to education.

As part of this research agenda, she has been committed to doing capacity building for scholars of pastoralism who are based in Asia and the Middle East. In 2015, she secured funding from the Wenner Gren Foundation to bring 10 scholars of pastoralism from Oman, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria to attend the 3rd Desert Conference and attend the writing workshop, "Localities and Livelihoods in Asian Drylands: Pastoralism in an Era of Climatic, Economic, and Social Change." Their work has been published in the edited volume, Pastoralist Livelihoods in Asian Drylands (see below).

Ariell is currently the chair for the Commission of Nomadic Peoples, which convenes annual conference panels at the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnographic Sciences (IUAES) Annual Conference and organises workshops and events.

As part of this research agenda, we organise the Oxford Desert Conference to bring together academics and practitioners working in the physical, social sciences and humanities to discuss themes related to researching in Desert contexts. There are dedicated sessions on mobile pastoralism at the conference.

2. Geographies of Mining and Infrastructure in Borderlands

Ariell's research on geographies of mining and infrastructure was supported by John Fell GCRF Incubator funding for a project called "China's Frontier: Institutions, Infrastructure and Landscapes in New Silk Road Nations". This project aimed to understand China's Belt and Road Initiative from the point of view of rural regions in border states, specifically Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.

The John Fell Incubator allowed our research team to build and strengthen collaborations with colleagues across Central and South Asia. Currently Ariell is a Co-I on the ESRC-GCRF funded project called the Gobi Framework: Mediation Model for Sustainable Infrastructure Development (visit https://gobiframework.ouce.ox.ac.uk for further details). This project involves a collaboration with the University of Central Asia and the Independent Research Institute of Mongolia to study infrastructure-related conflict and models for mediation.

3. Environmental Governance

This research theme cross-cuts Ariell's interest in pastoralism, Mongolia and borderland geographies. Based on long-term ethnographic research in Mongolia and elsewhere, Ariell engages with performativity theory and the concept of improvisation to deconstruct the idea of the state and the analytical divisions between state-society or private-public spaces. Her research on patron-client relations and the formation of groups and alliances between groups informs these theoretical engagements.

Teaching and Supervision

Ariell supervises master's students in SoGE and the Saïd Business School. She regularly teaches elective courses for the MSc/MPhil programmes including Environmental Governance and Development; and Critical Ecologies: Alternative Visions for Environmental Community and Governance.

For the MSc/MPhil in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance, Ariell teaches on the Research Design module and leads the Governance, Politics & Policy module as well as the Research Methods module.

Current Graduate Research Students

Mari Arold

Looping forest: Analogue and digital mediations of landscape and identities in post-Soviet Estonia

Abdul Wahid Khan

The Blessings of the Commons (Muzhayo) for the Local Community and More-than-Humans of Chitral, Pakistan and the Influence of Neoliberal and Nationalization Projects: An Apocalypse of a Culturalscape

Faryal Leghari

Could displacement have brought about a pronounced role for women refugees from patriarchal pastoral communities in a geopolitically strategic region? A study of women refugees in South Waziristan in Northwestern Pakistan post-conflict

Sina Maghami Nick

The meaning of nomadism for Bakhtiari mobile pastoralists in the Zagros Mountains of Iran

Alex Midlen

The making of a global blue economy ‘governmentality’? Alternative futures in governance of marine resources.

Sarah Hui Ann Tan

Hazy memories: Exploring the relationship between 'eco-social histories' and risk perception through the lived experience of haze pollution in Malaysia


Selected Publications

Pastoralist Livelihoods in Asian Drylands: Environment, Governance and Risk
Ahearn, A., Sternberg, T. and Hahn, A. (eds.) (2017)
The White Horse Press, Cambridge
Pastoralist Livelihoods in Asian Drylands: Environment, Governance and Risk
Sternberg, T. and Ahearn, A. (2023) Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 103, p. 107269.
1526713 - Mongolian mining engagement with SIA and ESG initi...
Joly, F., Sabatier, R., Tatin, L., Mosnier, C., Ahearn, A., Benoit, M., Hubert, B. and Deffuant, G. (2022) Ecological Modelling, 464, p. 109799.
1586215 - Adaptive decision-making on stocking rates improve...
Sternberg, T., Mayaud, J. and Ahearn, A. (2022) Land, 11(6), p. 799.
1266859 - Herd It in the Gobi: Deserting Pastoralism?
Ahearn, A. and Sternberg, T. (2022) Eurasian Geography and Economics, pp. 1–24.
1286609 - Ruins in the making: socio-spatial struggles over ...
Ahearn, A. (2021) in Socialist and Post-Socialist Mongolia: Nation, Identity, and Culture, pp. 239–256.
Ahearn, A. and Chatty, D. (2020) in The Routledge Handbook of Indigenous Environmental Knowledge. Taylor & Francis, pp. 111–125.
1311495 - Asian and Middle Eastern pastoralists
Bumochir, D., Ichinkhorloo, B. and Ahearn, A. (2020) Inner Asia, 22(2), pp. 183–198.
1128163 - Herd Agency
Sternberg, T., Ahearn, A. and McConnell, F. (2019) Community Development Journal, 55(3), pp. 533–538.
1049567 - From conflict to a community development agreement...
Mijiddorj, T., Ahearn, A., Mishra, C. and Boldgiv, B. (2019) Human Ecology, 47(5), pp. 785–794.
1061253 - Gobi Herders? Decision-Making and Risk Management ...
Ahearn, A. (2019) Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 110(3), pp. 882–898.
1032033 - The new Mongolian state herder; examining invocati...