The End of Nomadism?

Society, State, and the Environment in Inner Asia

The End of Nomadism?

Central Asia Book Series

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 86 figures, including 14 b&w photographs, 13 tables Published: February 1999

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies, Environmental Studies

Those who herd in the vast grassland region of Inner Asia face a precarious situation as they struggle to respond to the momentous political and economic changes of recent years. In The End of Nomadism? Caroline Humphrey and David Sneath confront the romantic, ahistorical myth of the wandering nomad by revealing the complex lives and the significant impact on Asian culture of these modern “mobile pastoralists.” In their examination of the present and future of pastoralism, the authors recount the extensive and quite sudden social, political, environmental, and economic changes of recent years that have forced these peoples to respond and evolve in order to maintain their centuries-old way of life.
Using extensive and detailed case studies comparing pastoralism in Siberian Russia, Mongolia, and Northwest China, Humphrey and Sneath explore the different paths taken by nomads in these countries in reaction to a changing world. In examining how each culture is facing not only different prospects for sustainability but also different environmental problems, the authors come to the surprising conclusion that mobility can, in fact, be compatible with a modern and urbanized world. While placing emphasis on the social and cultural traditions of Inner Asia and their fate in the post-Socialist economies of the present, The End of Nomadism? investigates the changing nature of pastoralism by focusing on key areas under environmental threat and relating the ongoing problems to distinctive socioeconomic policies and practices in Russia and China. It also provides lively contemporary commentary on current economic dilemmas by revealing in telling detail, for instance, the struggle of one extended family to make a living.
This book will interest Central Asian, Russian, and Chinese specialists, as well as those studying the environment, anthropology, sociology, peasant studies, and ecology.


“Humphrey and Sneath’s brilliant work profoundly alters the understanding of inner Asian pastoral-nomadic economies. It decisively breaks the currently used stereotype of ‘Central Asian pastoralism’ and replaces it with a more accurate detailed model of great theoretical and applied importance. . . . Essential for all collections in inner/Central Asian anthropological and economic materials. Highly recommended.” — L. A. Kimball , Choice

“Their detailed account makes clear that their term of mobile pastoralism describes a way of life that is remarkably compatible with different sorts of ‘social and economic systems, including technologically advanced ones.’ . . . One is struck reading this volume crammed with observations and data about this large area by the similarity of human behaviors and problems of living in harmony with one another and the environment regardless of where they live.” — Perceptual and Motor Skills

“This study will be of enormous value to a wide variety of readers. While the number of published works on post-socialist societies is on the rise, few are as well constructed as this one. . . . The analysis moves well beyond statistics to bring out the lives of ordinary people in Inner Asia and the problems they face. For once, Inner Asia is at the leading edge of scholarship rather than bringing up the rear.” — Thomas Barfield , China Review International

"[A] bold rethinking of the idea of nomadism. . . . The authors make a powerful argument, backed up with ecological and statistical data from Mongolia and Tuva. . . ." — David G. Anderson, Anthropological Quarterly

"[A] lucid, cogently argued study. . . . [P]articularly valuable since it is one of those rare works that will be of use to policy makers, to professionals in the field, and also to academics in a number of different areas, including pastoralism, comparative development studies and post-socialist transitions." — Shirin Akiner , Bulletin of Oriental and African Studies

“This study delves into the various land use policies of northern China, Mongolia and southern Siberia and examines how these have had varying impacts on the people and ecosystem of this vast region. . . .A tremendous international research effort.” — William K. Volkert, Ecologist and Director of the International Lake Baikal (Siberia) Project


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Caroline Humphrey is Reader in Asian Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

David Sneath is a Lecturer of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and Director of Studies in Anthropology at Trinity College in Cambridge. Humphrey and Sneath are the coeditors of Culture and Environment in Inner Asia.

Table of Contents Back to Top

1. Cultures of Inner Asia

2. Changing Pastoral Societies and the Environment in the 20th Century

3. Rural Institutions

4. Kinship, Networks, and Residence

5. Settlement and Urbanism

6. Spatial Mobility and Inner Asian Pastoralism

7. A Family and Its Networks

8. Conclusion



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2140-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2107-1
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