Stratified ecological knowledges of the Laikipia Plateau and Amboseli Basin, Kenya

Authors: Ryan Unks*, National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), Walker DePuy, University of Georgia
Topics: Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: STS, ecology, pastoralism, Maasai
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Nearly three decades of so-called community-based conservation in Kenya has existed in close relation with ecological research programs that have produced distinct narratives about pastoralist livelihoods and human-environment relationships. Much of this research and the resulting literature has focused on the high abundance of wildlife in areas where pastoralist land use was historically predominant, and has explored questions of how to optimize wildlife conservation at the behest of state and non-state actors. We take an STS approach to analyze the relationship between historical processes, social relations, structural influence, and scientific discourse about pastoralism and pastoralists in these contexts. We build upon our own previous analyses of biophysical change, as well as the ecological and social factors most closely associated with landscape change according to different sources, including conservation NGO representatives, international researchers, and pastoralist experts. Using an analysis of interviews, scientific publications, grey literature documents, and participant observation along the knowledge production frontier, we lay out a typology of discourses produced about biophysical phenomena and policy prescriptions, and trace patterns of how knowledge producers have sought to amplify or attenuate different social and ecological dimensions of complex landscape changes. We examine the relationship between these discourses and the outcomes advocated for by a heterogeneous assemblage of state and non-governmental actors. We also explore the way that knowledge is often produced through asymmetric collaborations. We discuss how different social, economic, and political relations have constrained biophysical inquiry, and suggest alternative ways of framing biophysical inquiry and restructuring research processes.

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