Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Making Pastoral Settlement Visible in China

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Making Pastoral Settlement Visible in China

Article excerpt

Abstract

Seen in the built environment of village and towns, the plans of scientific texts and journals of modern animal husbandry, and in the programmes of state natural resource bureaucracies and international development projects, settlements constructed for nomadic peoples in China seem to index a historically and socially specific vision associated with modern political economic ideologies. Drawing on the work of James Scott (1996), one might argue that settlement is the vision of the Chinese state. Yet Scott's approach risks objectifying the embodied vision of the humans who constitute settlement. Indeed, many scholars have simplified the agency attributed to a range of actors within the experience of settlement. This article uses a phenomenological approach to make more complex our understandings of these phenomena by exploring perceptions of settlement among three distinct actors: officials from the Chinese states, personnel of international organizations which have funded and provided technical expertise in the implementation of settlements, and residents of settlements themselves--Chinese ethnic minority citizens. In conclusion, I offer three different but overlapping visions that make settlement as a totality possible, and yet distinct from an objectified vision of Chinese government officials.

Keywords: phenomenology, nomads, government, settlement, China

Introduction

There are different ways to interpret the settlement of nomadic peoples. A cross-disciplinary international literature has explored the privatization of pasture use rights and policies for pastoral settlement in contemporary China (Goldstein and Beall 1989; Cincotta et al. 1992; Longworth and Williamson 1993; Humphrey and Sheath 1996a, 1996b, 1999; Banks 1997a, 1997b, 2002; Thwaites et al. 1998). Much of this existing research is focused on the effectiveness of the state's new rangeland management and pastoral development policies, either in the policies' own terms or in their capacity to improve pastoral livelihoods. Some of this literature has criticized the ways that Chinese government officials involved in rangeland management and pastoral development represent pastoral cultural practices as inefficient and unsustainable (Richard 2005, Tuerxunnayi et al. 2005). Many of these studies, both in China and similar ones in other areas of the world, support mobile forms of tenure and management because they build on principles relevant to local culture and social organization as well as diverse and spatially specific ecologies (see Scoones 1994, Richard 2000). For example, Williams (2002) describes the increasing land degradation, economic stratification and social strife that result from the implementation of pastoral settlement policies in Inner Mongolia.

In the pastoral regions of northwest China, people understand policies of pastoral settlement somewhat differently. In my discussions with them, officials and residents who support settlement policies often highlighted the meaning of settlements in terms of their own perception (i.e., a phenomenological interpretation), particularly as a form of built environment, rather than the outcomes of settlement according to social, political-economic or ecological (i.e., objectivist) criteria. Moving beyond the available research on settlement, this article employs a phenomenological approach to complicate our scholarly understandings of settlement.

How do government officials, residents and other relevant actors perceive settlement differently? How are their visual forms of perception related to distinctive phenomenological experiences of settlement's built environment? To this end, the article will explore the settlement perceptions of three distinct actors: officials from the Chinese (and to a lesser extent the Kazakhstani) states, the personnel of international organizations which have funded and provided technical expertise in the construction and utilization of settlements, and residents of settlements themselves--Chinese and Kazakhi citizens. …

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