Academic journal article African Studies Review

Inscribing Identity and Agency on the Landscape: Of Pathways, Places, and the Transition of the Public Sphere in East Pokot, Kenya

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Inscribing Identity and Agency on the Landscape: Of Pathways, Places, and the Transition of the Public Sphere in East Pokot, Kenya

Article excerpt


Drawing upon the dynamic interrelationship between human agency and space, this article sheds light on the constitution of and relation between "place" and "path" among the pastoral Pokot of East Pokot District in the Kenyan North Rift Valley. It discusses the transformation from a more mobile pastoralist model of spatialization, which relies on a flexible network approach combining paths and places, toward a more "place-making," postpastoralist model linked to increasing sedentariness, privatization of land, a clearer definition of external and internal boundaries, and a rapid emergence of schools, churches, and other physical structures.

Résumé: En s'appuyant sur la relation dynamique entre les espaces occupés par les hommes et l'activité qui s'y déroule, cet article met en lumière la constitution de la relation entre la notion de "lieu" et celle de "chemin transitoire" dans le contexte de la vie pastorale des Pokot du district Est "Pokot" dans la Vallée du Rift au nord du Kenya. Il étudie la transformation d'un modèle pastoral mobile d'utilisation de l'espace, reposant sur une approche de réseau flexible en combinant les chemins transitoires et les lieux, en un modèle "postpastoraliste" plus enclin à l'installation d'un lieu, lié à l'augmentation de la tendance sédentaire, de la privatisation des terres, à une définition plus claire des frontières internes et externes, et lié à l'émergence rapide d'écoles, d'églises et autres structures physiques permanentes.

Key Words: Pastoralism; East Africa; public sphere; cultural change; space and place


In this article we trace changing practices of spatialization in a community that until recently emphasized a strongly pastoral nomadic lifestyle, but which in recent years has been shifting toward a more sedentary, agropastoral mode of existence. By spatialization we refer to the physical and conceptual location of social relations and social practices in social space (see Low 1996). We will draw connections between two distinct phenomena of spadalization: the making and the mutual constitution of places and paths in a pastoral community on the one hand, and transitions of the public sphere, on the other. We explore how these transformations affect local visions of the public sphere, that is, of spaces deemed appropriate for political discussions. While the pastoral mode of spatialization defined highly structured and ritually legitimated spaces for the discussion of community politics, the public sphere has now become more amorphous, and a fertile ground for more fluid forms of spatialization. In the pastoral system exclusionary operations controlling access to the public sphere were organized according to the categories of gender and age, while in the contemporary world ethnicity, religious affiliations, and formal education have become major factors determining access to such arenas. Based on three periods of extended fieldwork spaced over a twenty-five-year period (Bollig 1987-93, Osterle 2003-05, and Greiner 2010-11), we describe the making of places, paths, and boundaries in a pastoralist context, and then show how spatialization changes in a period of sedentarization, diversification, politicization, and ethnicization of resource tenure.

There is a vast literature on "place" (e.g., Cresswell 2004; Feld 8c Basso 1996), which we will not touch upon in greater detail. In contrast, the concept of "path" is not widely discussed in academic discourses on spatialization. Deleuze and Guattari (1997) make it a key concept of their "nomadology" and claim that the making of paths (or ânes, in their terminology), and the nonadherence to places, is characteristic of nomadic pasto ralists; and by extension, that path-making is strongly linked to egalitarian political systems, whereas place-making is connected to hierarchies and the state. A third concept guiding our analysis is that of the "public sphere," another concept with a long pedigree in the humanities (see Weintraub 1997). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.