Greener Pastures: Politics, Markets, and Community Among a Migrant Pastoral People
Hardcover: 219 pages
Publisher: Duke University Press (April 1, 1999)
Social scientists theorizing about political economy and the allocation of resources have usually omitted migrant communities from their studies. In Greener Pastures Arun Agrawal uses the story of the Raikas, a little-known group of migrant shepherds in western India, to reexamine current scholarship on markets and exchange, local and state politics, and community and hierarchy. The Raikas are virtually invisible in the regions through which they travel, as well as to the wider Indian society, yet they must operate as part of these larger spheres for their economic survival. Agrawal analyzes the institutions developed by the shepherds to solve livelihood problems. First, by focusing on the relations of the shepherds with their landholder neighbors, he explains why the shepherds migrate. He shows that struggles between these two groups led to a sociopolitical squeeze on the access of shepherds to the fodder resources they need to feed their sheep. Then, in an examination of why the shepherds migrate in groups, he demonstrates how their migratory lives depend on market exchanges and points to the social and political forces that influence prices and determine profits. Finally, he looks at decision-making processes such as division of labor and the delegation of power. Politics is ubiquitous in the interactions of the shepherds with their neighbors and with state officials, in their exchanges in markets and with farmers, and in their internal relations as a community.
Order from Amazon.com
HUMAN ECOLOGY 33 (2): 289-292 APR 2005
DEVELOPMENT AND CHANGE 33 (2): 373-374 APR 2002
AMERICAN JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS 84 (4): 1176-1177 NOV 2002 [below]:
Arun Agrawal is a political scientist and an ethnographer, and in this elegant piece of work he does a masterful job of combining the skills and insights that come with each of these proclivities. On the one hand he is concerned to ask a series of ethnographic questions specific to the raikas, a group of migrant pastoralists based in Rajasthan, namely "Why do the raikas migrate? Why do they migrate collectively? How do they address problems of collective action" (p. 164). On the other hand, Agrawal uses his ethnographic material to pose a series of penetrating theoretical questions about the nature and role of institutions in social life. Specifically he asks what a fine-grained understanding of the raikas' relations to government, markets, and each other might contribute to our theoretical understandings of the institutions of state, market, and community. Underlying this concern is the contention that a more careful understanding of the ways in which marginal (and in this case, migrant) groups engage in political and economic relationships can throw light particularly upon the ways these institutions are constructed, reproduced, and changed, and upon the ways in which such processes hinge around the continual exercise and negotiation of power relationships, both among marginal groups and between them and other actors.
The book is organized to address these questions: sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion are three sections, each of two chapters, that address questions of state, market, and community in turn. In each chapter, Agrawal uses particular cases to illustrate his larger points and in this sense all six of the substantive empirical chapters tell an important story of their own, while, at the same time, contributing to the books cumulative argument. This makes the book particularly readable and, inter alia, makes it that much more useful for teaching. The section on the state includes one chapter analyzing the alliances and sometimes theoretically counter-intuitive calculations that underlie the political strategies of dominant groups. The second chapter considers the interactions between the raika and the state around state-led attempts to foster development as a means of both modernizing raika technical practices and of extending the state's ability to monitor raika life. The section on markets includes one chapter dealing with the economics of collective migration decisions, and another on the formation of prices in the many exchanges in which these migrant herders are involved. The latter discussion--in the same spirit as the literature on so-called "real markets"--is interesting for the ways in which it empirically demonstrates how price formation varies according to the social and political characteristics of those involved in the transaction and the context in which the negotiation unfolds. Agrawal neatly steers clear of more simplistic arguments about power determining prices, yet at the same time reasons carefully about the ways in which price formation is a process firmly embedded in social relationships. This analysis in turn suggests, again empirically, why it is theoretically dubious to consider gift, barter, and commodity transactions as conceptually distinct in any strict sense.
The section on community is perhaps the most interesting for the way in which it tackles the dual questions: how is community built among migrant, placeless people such as the raika; and what is the relationship between hierarchy and the sustenance of this community? These chapters in particular emphasize the great effort that goes into building community among the raikas--the construction of community is clearly intentional, and, given the migratory patterns of raika life, far from routine. Indeed one of the principal messages to come from this book is the sense in which institutions are constructed by human agents and how therefore their precise form can neither be taken for granted nor easily generalized. For those working in development, where notions of market, community, and government are bandied around all too easily, this is a critical message, and it is the one that is particularly well conveyed through the methodological combination of ethnographic and institutional analysis that Agrawal uses in this book.
Indeed, at the same time as contributing to our understanding of how institutions of state, market and community are constructed and sustained, this study is also concerned with addressing the contemporary debates in development, in particular those critiques that emphasize the extent to which development programs are instruments for controlling, ordering, and often dispossessing citizens. Agrawal, however, is more concerned to contribute to that line of writing that--although accepting elements of such critiques--focuses more on the ways in which development programs are resisted and struggled over, and in the process transformed. He emphasizes the many ways in which the raika--though in many respects a marginalized group--are agents who consciously resist, negotiate, and resolve. They do not always emerge triumphant in the negotiations, he discusses, but they do emerge as agents who are very actively engaged in reshaping development programs and, in the process, and relatedly, in contributing to the final form taken by local manifestations of state, market, and community.
The sleeve comments for this book are written by James Scott, Robert Bates, and Elinor Ostrom. This seems quite appropriate. Just as the work of these three political scientists has spoken forcefully to people working in a range of other disciplines, therefore this book also has much to say to anthropologists, geographers, and economists working on questions of environment, development, and institutions. And, as in the case of these authors, Agrawal's work is methodologically innovative, combining both ethnographic and formal analysis to ask complex theoretical questions. It will be an important point of reference for many of us for many years to come, both as a source of methodological guidance, as well as conceptual challenge.
Anthony J. Bebbington
University of Colorado at Boulder
AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST 28 (1): 208-210 FEB 2001 [below]:
In Greener Pastures: Politics, Markets, and Community among a Migrant Pastoral People, Arun Agrawal engages a number of questions relating to migration and mobility among the Raika, agro-pastoralists in Rajasthan, western India. Agrawal seeks to explain why Raika shepherds migrate with their herds of sheep and why they do it collectively. He also sets out to analyze the kinds of institutions shepards craft to deal with dilemmas inherent to all joint undertakings (such as problems of "free riding" [p. xi]). Agrawal is a political scientist skillfully using anthropological fieldwork and engaging with topics largely outside of mainstream political science. While I support Agrawal's finely tuned and well-crafted book, I do feel--perhaps out of an anthropologist's bias--that a different analytical focus would allow a richer use of his ethnography. I found his approach too reductionistic, particularly in the third part of the book where Agrawal applies game theory to analyze the relationship between shepherds and their leaders. Here Agrawal mainly seeks the economic rationality behind all social relations. One of the main findings of his analysis is that "relations of community that seem to hinge upon cooperation might be founded nonetheless on the pursuit of self-interest" (p. 162). Without entering into a debate about human nature, I want to point out that social analysis needs to move beyond truisms like homo economicus. There is simply more to human agency than the pursuit of self-interest.
Greener Pastures is divided into three parts. In the first part Agrawal addresses the Janus-faced nature of migration, which is both a consequence of marginalization and, at the same time, a subaltern strategy to escape domination and create a better livelihood. Agrawal questions the tendency in literature on migrant communities to take pastoralists' mobility as self-evident. He argues that different levels of mobility need to be accounted for rather than taken for granted. For example, Agrawal convincingly argues that, because fluctuation in biomass production alone does not explain pastoralists' mobility, analysts need to address the politics of migration. The Raika shepherds migrate between three to 12 months a year; when not migrating they live in settled villages. The Raikas' main adversary in the village are the powerful landholding castes who, through their control over the village council, can lay their hands on state development resources and use state policies to herders' disadvantage. With the help of the Indian Forest Department, one village council, for example, managed to plant trees and grasses in part of the village common which had been open to grazing. Such enclosures of the village common force the Raikas into longer periods of migration.
Agrawal also tells a fascinating story about a large World Bank-financed program to settle the Raikas permanently and rationalize their methods of sheep herding. As with most such large-scale programs, little of the attempted development took place. A largely unintended outcome, however, was that the cooperative societies established by the project later turned into a well-functioning organizational platform for political mobilization among the Raikas. Agrawal offers here a sophisticated example of how relations between the state and marginal communities may function. He rightly stresses that the flow of influence "is not entirely one way" (p. 62), no matter how unequal power relations may be between the actors that comprise the state and the Raikas. The shepherds, as he puts it, "evade, renegotiate, reshape, and are influenced by their encounters" (p. 62).
In part 2, Agrawal discusses the Raikas' life in mobile camps, dealing particularly with the economics of migration and the shepherds' involvement in market exchange. One of his main points here is to show that villagers' skillful participation in market relations is critical to successful migration, a point that counters the stereotypic image of self-sufficient pastoralist communities. Using a great deal of empirical detail, Agrawal convincingly shows that collective migration is more profitable than individual migration. When the Raika move in large camps consisting of 40 to 60 shepherds with a total of about 4,000 to 5,000 sheep, they benefit from important economies of scale and substantially lower their security risks.
While the sale of sheep and wool provides more than 95 percent of the shepherds' revenues, Agrawal chooses to focus on their exchange of sheep manure, finding this exchange particularly "thought-provoking regarding markets and exchange" (p. 104). The Raika camp leader negotiates daily with farmers and settles a price either in cash or kind (grain) for spending the night on someone's fields (in the company of sheep) and thus fertilizing the land with the animal droppings. Agrawal uses the fact that farmers can pay for the manure in money or grain to question earlier studies that distinguish between economies based on barter and those based on commodity exchange. His critique is intriguing, as there is a large body of work in economic anthropology that deals with situations in which different forms of exchange or economic logic coexist, but where one form or logic still might dominate.
In the third part of the book, Agrawal also raises the interesting question of how mobile groups construct community. Conventionally, scholars take community to be attachments built on long-term relations to a particular place. Yet the Raikas build lively communities without such place-based attachments. By describing the Raika shepherds as placeless, however, Agrawal forgets that the same people also live in villages and own land. Their sense of community appears to be based on both life in the village and in the mobile camp. As a shepherd explains, "My home is back in village Patawal. But it is also here in the dang. And it is also wherever we camp for the night" (p. 128). It would have been interesting to interrogate this further, and I think that by doing so one would find intricate and complex belongings and attachments to the land rather than placelessness. Kinship, or the importance of kin relations, is another theme that Agrawal touches upon but could develop further. Despite my critical remarks, Greener Pastures is a tremendously rich book and a scholarly achievement worth applauding.
B. G. KARLSSON
JOURNAL OF ASIAN STUDIES 60 (1): 245-247 FEB 2001 [below]:
Only the most cynical reader can fail to be seduced by Arun Agrawal's skillful treatment of the Raikas, a community of migrant shepherds of northwestern India. To effect his sweep of Raika society, Agrawal, who teaches political science at Yale, supplements the tool kit of that discipline with instruments from anthropology, economics, and literary criticism. As a bona fide ethnographer, the author has slept on the ground, grazed sheep, ridden camels, and cooked on an open fire alongside his peripatetic subjects. But lest reader mistake him for a quixotic romantic, he has also given us multiple regressions and game theory.
In navigating between these extremes, Agrawal engages in theoretical conversations about politics, markets, and community-his book's subtitle. He examines power structures within the various Raika communities and between the shepherds and the society within which they are embedded. And although he relentlessly seeks to derive deep significance from his observations-occasionally imputing to them the thoughts of such writers as Fanon, Geertz, and Gramsci-he never strays from his in-the-flesh protagonists. Agrawal's chapters are sprinkled with quotations, vignettes, and character portraits drawn from his 1989-1990 fieldwork and supplemented by nearly a decade of subsequent retrospection. Remarkably, he manages to achieve his study in just 165 pages of text. But what densely packed pages they are, filled with empirical examples and laced with heavy doses of theory-- subalternist historical theory, postmodernism, common-property theory, and decision theory.
One of the most impressive features of the book is the way in which the author implicitly and explicitly critiques normative notions of community, identity, development, exchange, and power. These notions primarily derive from observations of sedentary populations, and Agrawal is quick to point out their lack of fit to the pastoralists he has lived with and studied. Like numerous other groups in South and Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America, the Raikas continue to migrate, even in the face of repressive policies that seek to sedentarize them and in spite of a host of modernizing forces that tend to inhibit their lifestyle. As a good social scientist, Agrawal poses some lofty questions. He wants to know why the Raikas persist in this difficult and archaic lifestyle and wonders what impels them to migrate collectively instead of individually or in small groups. What political and economic institutions do they establish to overcome the challenges of collective migration, and how successful are these?
To get to these and related questions, Agrawal has organized his book to mirror the three elements of his subtitle. He titles his first section, "Subaltern Politics, Development, and the State." In the first of two short chapters within this section, Agrawal the political scientist addresses the question of governance of the commons-- and tells us in no uncertain terms that he does not subscribe to Garrett Hardin's "tragedy of the commons" view that unregulated access to common resources will axiomatically degrade them. The second chapter explores the essential role and influence of the state.
The book's second section, also containing two small chapters, is termed "Markets and Exchange." Here, the author, wearing his economist's hat, looks closely at such variables as flock size, cost of feed and transport, use of hired help, and other expenses. From these data, he attempts to estimate profits or losses to the various flock owners and attribute these outcomes to various factors. In the second of two chapters, he employs statistical regression analysis to study the influence of local and regional markets on a key Raika commodity, sheep manure. He concludes that the most significant determinants are flock size, landholding size, and the presence or nonpresence of irrigation; counterintuitively, caste appears to have little effect on the price of manure and hence on profit margins for the Raika.
Finally, in his third section, Agrawal discusses "Community, Institutions, and Hierarchy." The introduction and first chapter place Raikas in a larger context and then begin to identify key factors in the decision-making processes employed by flock owners and their communities. The section ends with what is arguably his least convincing chapter, one that contrasts sharply with the lyricism of much of the rest of Agrawal's work. In this chapter, called "Hierarchy in Community: Games Shepherds and Their Leaders Play," the author as game theorist deploys a mathematical model that attempts to explain the relationship between shepherds and their leaders.
The equations in this last chapter may convince the cognoscenti, but the average social scientists who form the core constituency of this book will almost surely pass over this analysis and read the subsequent chapter, "An Ending." In this closing essay, Agrawal, the literary scholar, anthropologist, and sometimes philosopher of the first two-thirds of the book, resumes his first-person narrative and wonders openly whether the Raikas' "mobile lifestyle," as he calls it, will allow them to survive into the next century.
Greener Pastures is a book that will appeal to diverse scholars and students. It is must reading for those interested in pastoralism, while political scientists and anthropologists will find colorful explorations of questions that are central to those disciplines. Additionally, this is a useful text for the fields of human geography, political ecology, development theory, and community-based-cooperatives theory, as well as for South Asian studies.
ROBERT G. VARADY
RURAL SOCIOLOGY 65 (4): 675-676 DEC 2000 [below]:
At first glance, an ethnography about pastoral nomads in India's Rajastan would seem to be more interesting to anthropologists and folklorists than to sociologists. Arun Agrawal's book about the Raika, however, is more than a rich description of an exotic people. Agrawal uses the unique situation of the Raika and rational choice theory to contribute to current thought on power, community, and the nature of cooperation.
The Raika, unlike most pastoralists, are not the last remnants of a free people whose migratory way of life is threatened by population growth and modernization. They migrate over longer distances and for longer periods today than in the past. For centuries they were integrated into Rajastan's society as camel herders for its elites, but now they have become specialized sheep producers. In most of Africa and Asia, population pressures and the marginal status of nomads has forced pastoralists to settle, but these pressures have made the Raika more nomadic. Raika herding communities are not based on tradition nor on lineage, but are largely voluntary associations that annually delegate large amounts of power to their chiefs. Each year they reconstitute themselves on the basis of their leaders' perceived performance.
Because Raika flocks depend more on fallow fields than on open range, the herders are constantly negotiating with powerful people and government institutions to survive. These negotiations are conducted at the individual, village, and provincial levels.
Greener Pastures is an excellent book for anyone interested in the interface between community and markets and the issues of property rights and power. Agrawal presents a useful discussion of village politics and the dilemmas that participation in politics poses to marginal people such as the Raika. He shows how government policies have marginalized the Raika to protect common lands and to encourage conservation. These policies have forced them to spend more time migrating, which in turn reduces their voice in the decisions of their home villages.
Agrawal's discussion of community and cooperation is also interesting. The migratory herding camps are an essential part of Raika life and identity. These are essentially annual institutions, however, which are reconstituted at each migration cycle. Community members give their leaders significant power to negotiate on their behalf; thus leaders have many opportunities to use their position for personal gain. Agrawal explains the advantages of collective migration, and of this form of social organization, from a rational choice perspective.
Greener Pastures is written well. This slim volume would be an excellent exemplar for students, illustrating the application of a rational choice perspective to issues of community and power.
-Reviewed by Jere L. Gilles University of Missouri
AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW 94 (3): 732-732 SEP 2000 [below]:
This intriguing volume uses rational choice theory at the intersection of political science, anthropology, and sociology to explain the behavior of the Raika shepherds in western India. Why should this matter to political scientists? First, the book is an impressive and clearly written monograph that addresses important topics in the field and demonstrates the insight that can be drawn from a consistent theoretical approach. Second, by providing a comprehensive analysis of the shepherds' behavior, Agrawal shows the advantages of interdisciplinary work. Third, by explaining the choices of migratory groups, Agrawal gives us a window on developments in other parts of the world (central Asia, western China, Laos and Burma, and sub-Saharan Africa), where yearly--not permanent--migrants have important political consequences.
Agrawal focuses on two main questions: Why do the Raikas migrate? Why do they migrate in large groups? In the process of answering these questions, he presents useful generalizations on three related topics: hierarchy, bargaining, and political economy.
Why do the Raikas migrate? Agrawal presents a convincing case that the Raikas move annually because they can increase their real incomes substantially above the level they could plausibly attain if they were sedentary within their home villages. Agrawal concentrates on the village of Patawal (near Jodhpur in Rajasthan) but shows that the behavior of the migrants he observes is similar to that of others throughout western India. Raikas are a lower caste who pursue one of the world's oldest occupations, but they are neither destitute nor at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Raikas own mostly sheep and goats, and in Patawal they have more than 6,000 animals in their flocks.
The Raikas' dilemma comes from their inability to form political coalitions within their home village. If they could get the untouchables and scheduled castes to vote with them, they could gain access to more of the village grazing lands set aside for cattle owned by the upper castes. The Raikas are unsuccessful at forming political coalitions with other lower castes because those below them are so poor and vulnerable that they are unwilling to risk alienating the village's higher status groups. Annual migration solves two problems: it provides fodder for the animals during the dry season, and extra income is earned because farmers are willing to pay for the fertilizer left by the flock.
Why migrate in large groups? The size of the migratory group is determined by both economic and political factors. There are scale economies in shepherding: One agent can negotiate with farmers to have the sheep and goats graze down a field just before planting, and a large flock can predictably cover a defined area in an overnight stay. Also, politically, there is safety in numbers, as the Raikas can assign one leader to pay the appropriate bribes to local police and government officials as they cross others' terrain. Small groups could more easily be expropriated and intimidated.
What does this tell those of us who do not follow India or the issue of migration? Regarding hierarchy, Agrawal has made a significant advance over Charlotte Wiser's Behind Mud Walls (1971) by showing that neither numbers of voters nor assets are adequate to elevate the Raikas' interests in Patawal. Greener Pastures also provides a more complex explanation of rural poverty than such classic Marxist views as Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth (1963). Hence, in sophistication, Agrawal's work is closer to Pranab Bardhan's "Analytics of the Institutions of Informal Cooperation in Rural Development," World Development 21 (1983): 633-9.
Elaborate bargaining is the centerpiece of Greener Pastures and illustrates that the Raika shepherds are far from operating in a world of pure oppression. In fact, they are involved in frequent bargaining: deciding who should represent them to the outside world, determining how to ward off financial predators, and making group decisions about the prices and quantities of the wool and animals they sell. Since dealing in quantity is an advantage, selecting a clever agent is critical and much debated among the Raikas. Therefore, Agrawal's findings fit nicely into current microeconomic and game-theoretic views of agency and human behavior (e.g., Eugene E. Fama, "Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy 88 : 288-307). Sadly, the Raikas' experience also confirms long-held views about corruption in India, previously analyzed in J. Jagdish Bhagwati and T. N. Srinivasan, India, 1975. The Raikas understand, however, that pay-offs vary with the power and venality of the official, and they develop an intricate set of guidelines for dealing with extortion.
Agrawal has two principal contributions of interest for political economy. He strongly endorses the view of peasants as rational calculators of their own interests (see Samuel Popkin, The Rational Peasant, 1979), and he makes a clear distinction between annual migrants, who stay within their home social hierarchy, and permanent migrants, who take greater risks and seek greater rewards (see Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted, 1973).
In sum, Greener Pastures nicely illustrates how a consistent theoretical approach links many different types of complex behavior. It will be essential reading for specialists on India and rural development, but it is accessible and of interest to a very broad audience.
David B. H. Denoon, New York University