University of Sussex
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“Partir pour Rester?” To leave in order to stay? The role of absence and institutions in accumulation by pastoralists in Southern Tunisia

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posted on 2023-06-10, 05:29 authored by Linda Pappagallo
Pastoral economies are often portrayed as operating in isolated and marginal spaces, where absence, as a result of emigration, is said to threaten pastoral production with implications on agrarian change. By using absence as a lens, this research unravels the political-economic implications of dynamics of accumulation for pastoralists in southern Tunisia’s drylands. This research asks: How do different forms of absence explain processes of capital accumulation within pastoral communities? “Partir pour Rester”? (to leave in order to stay?), focuses on the relational dimensions of who leaves, who stays, and why. By describing how different pastoralists manage (im)mobilities to sustain multilocal capital accumulation strategies, and by using pastoral institutions as an entry point to analyse how livestock, land and labour relations of production are organized within the pastoral community, this research highlights the more flexible qualities of accumulation and differentiation. Through a qualitative study, visual methods and digital ethnography in Douiret, a mountainous community in southern Tunisia that identifies as being Amazigh or Arabized Berbers, this research finds that different forms of absence-presence facilitate differential patterns of accumulation. A key aspect that emerged from fieldwork is how different forms of absence-presence are mediated by informal institutions that operate through a series of commoning practices. For example, the khlata emerges as a pastoral institution that enables flexible accumulation by pooling herds, sharing herding labour costs, providing alternative herding labour arrangements, and legitimizing access to a mosaic of pastureland. In conclusion, peoples’ mobilities and adaptive/autonomous informal institutions shape and are shaped by livestock’s liquid logic, a trait of livestock (as a form of capital) that tracks variability. These intersecting features explain how reliability is being generated over the long term, and across demographic lifecycles in Douiret. I argue therefore, that more dynamic theorizations of pastoral production are needed to highlight how pastoralism persists in drylands and as such this thesis challenges overly deterministic accounts of agrarian change.


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