Adaptive diversity: pastoralists, development, and resilience in Mongolia

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Thrift, Eric
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Mobile pastoralism constitutes a highly resilient resource use strategy, involving continuous adaptation to environmental change and uncertainty through patterns of mobility, diverse and extensive resource use, and flexible social organization. In this study I investigate the nature of adaptive practices among pastoralists in contemporary Mongolia, drawing on ethnographic interviews and audiovisual recordings of everyday activities produced with herders at two ecologically distinct sites, with the intention of contributing an ethnographically grounded understanding of how adaptability might be addressed as a development aim. Through a critical examination of how development policies and interventions affect herders' adaptability, I attempt to confront the limitations of current models for development and common-pool natural resource management. I find that development policies aiming to modernize livestock production and rangeland management may contribute to the fragmentation of mutual aid networks, ecological landscapes, and economic processes, thus limiting diversity and adaptability. Based on these findings I discuss the adaptive importance of heterogeneous social and biological relations, identifying a need to maintain capacity for creative, improvisatory use of natural and cultural resources at the scale of individuals and small, flexible collectivities.
Mobile pastoralism, Mongolia, Adaptation, Resilience, Development, Social organization