Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Between Market Logic and Communal Practices: Pastoral Nomad Groups and Globalization in Contemporary Sudan (Case Studies from Central and Western Sudan)

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Between Market Logic and Communal Practices: Pastoral Nomad Groups and Globalization in Contemporary Sudan (Case Studies from Central and Western Sudan)

Article excerpt


This article deals with the conflict between communal practices typical of pastoral Sudanese groups, especially in accessing and managing natural resources, and market logic, which became dominant during the consolidation of global capitalism in Sudan. The focus is on wider socio-political structures and cultural values that support communal practices and their contradiction with individualistic (neo)-liberal ideology. The main factors and actors of recent transformations are illustrated first. Secondly, the local perception of changes, the transmission of ideological influence and the permanence of some institutions as signalling a 'silent resistance' by pastoral socio-cultural systems to commoditization, are analysed. The dilemma and contradiction experienced by the Ahamda (Central Butana) and the Awlad Nuba (Southern Kordofan) in this context of conflicting patterns is described.

Keywords: Commoditization, commons, globalization, pastoral economy, tribal structure

Introduction (1)

The debate about the 'commons' is nothing new among social scientists, but takes on a renewed impetus in the context of the rising awareness of the social costs of globalization. The spectre of the 'tragedy of the commons' has been widely used since the 1960s as a 'neutral' scientific discourse, yet its real function as ideological support for liberalization and accessibility to the capitalist exploitation of collective resources has been progressively unveiled ever since (Nonini 2005). Despite the work of social scientists among communities of the South criticizing the alleged irrationality and destructiveness of 'communal property' regimes (with special reference to pastoral societies), the 'tragedy of enclosures' (Bromley 1991) has persisted. Paradoxically, in the present phase in which the ideological, economic and political forces of globalization have reached a higher level, doubt is more frequently cast on the 'tragedy of the commons'. The same actors that, in previous decades, contributed to deeply undermining the commons today promote their 'revival' in order to limit the social damage of market economy expansion. These 'new' approaches, advocated by 'privatized' states, international financial institutions, sectors of humanitarian aid and cooperation for development give value to the commons by participating in an outward discourse yet continue to propose interventions to enhance the development of marketing processes as the unique solution.

We do not intend here to enter into the debate about the juridical definition of the commons, or to give suggestions to policy makers and developers; rather, we would like to highlight the conflict (at the material and ideological level) between some persisting communal practices and the progressing capitalist logic among Sudanese pastoral societies. This approach stresses three main elements. First, pastoral societies can be symbolic for illustrating the conflict surrounding the commons. On the one hand, they appeared to be more resistant to abandoning communal forms of resource management--the stereotype of the 'irrational commoner' often refers to the pastoral nomad. On the other hand, their marginal status in most colonial and post-colonial states has only increased with the progress of global capitalism. Second, it is necessary to go beyond a merely 'economicist' vision of the commons: if the latter prove to be so resistant, it is also because they are organically linked to social settings (Cotula et al. 2005; Leach, Mearns and Scoones 1999) evoking the Polanyi's (1944 and 1968) 'embeddedness' of economy in social institutions among non-capitalist communities. More specifically for Sudanese pastoralists, this corresponds to the 'tribal pattern' of the gabila that stands as a kin structure, a legal system and a political configuration as well as a symbolic device for meaning and value attribution. Third, the framework of dichotomy, or of the survival of the 'ancient' versus the 'modern', will not be applied. …

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