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Fences without fences: Institutions and subjectivity in Ilkisongo Maasai pastoralist commons of southern Kenya

Authors: Ryan Unks*, University of Lyon
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Africa, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Institutions, Commons, Pastoralism, Conservation, Subjectivity
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Pastoralist commons have often been cited as ideal instances of collective resource management. However, subdivision has increasingly been advocated within the few remaining areas of collectively-titled lands in Kajiado county, Kenya, creating potential barriers to access to spatially and temporally variable forage for wildlife and livestock alike. Previous work has shown how in this context of ongoing changes in livelihoods, authority, and governance, that commodification of wildlife and recent relational changes have counter-intuitively contributed to this momentum toward subdivision. I expand upon this work to discuss how amidst land users advocating subdivision, conservation organizations have worked in coordination with state and local authorities to assert influence over the outcomes. Re-configurations of land use, constraints on different land use practices, and advocacy of new types of human/livestock interactions come together with a recent focus on indigenous knowledge and pastoralist livestock institutions to form a strategy toward enacting a specific vision of human/non-human coexistence that emphasizes synergies between livestock and wildlife. I explore how different actors deploy hybridized concepts of Maasai culture, conservation ranching, and the commons to shape outcomes under new governance configurations. I trace the evolution of state and non-state discourse about indigenous pastoralism alongside the history of interventions to consider how conservation subjectivities are shaping reconfiguration of land tenure in a context of stratified experiences of landscape fragmentation, land use intensification, and resource extraction. The insights from this work shed critical light on recent conversations about pastoralist commons, conservation governance, and “green grabs” in Kenyan wildlife conservation context.

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