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European University Institute - Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

PASTRES project: how to navigate uncertainty in a turbulent world?

How to deal with and live through uncertainties that characterise our society? A roundtable held at the EUI in light of the PASTRES project addressed this question, by focusing on what global lessons can be learned from pastoralists.

17 October 2023 | Event

PASTRES project banner

On 27 September, the European Research Council-supported project ‘PASTRES’ (Pastoralism, Uncertainty, Resilience: Global Lessons from the Margins) held its closing event at the EUI. The project was co-hosted by the Global Governance Programme of the Robert Schuman Centre and the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.

Over the last six years, the project has been exploring how pastoralists – mobile, extensive livestock keepers – have responded to uncertainties of different sorts, whether climate, market shocks, diseases or political change. The project has been working in six countries across three continents, with fieldwork undertaken in China, Ethiopia, India, Italy, Kenya and Tunisia. This work has revealed the array of strategies used that allow for flexible, adaptive responses to uncertainties, rooted in embedded social relations and institutions. The core findings are now available in an open access edited book, Pastoralism, Uncertainty and Development, published earlier this year.

The EUI roundtable focused on the ‘global lessons’ on uncertainty emerging from pastoralists. The premise of the PASTRES work emphasizes the collective need to navigate uncertainties in an increasingly turbulent world, emphasizing the necessity to shed some of the conventional approaches that have assumed stability, linearity, and control and embrace alternatives that open up to uncertainty. To do this, much can be learned from those who continuously must manage uncertainties in their daily lives; and this includes pastoralists

The roundtable was chaired by Professor Erik Jones, director of the Robert Schuman Centre, and included a number of EUI researchers and participants from other universities, with backgrounds ranging from economics to anthropology, to security studies and more. It generated a robust, cross-disciplinary discussion, with much agreement despite different terminologies and perspectives. The discussion opened with a short presentation by PASTRES Principal Investigator, Professor Ian Scoones, looking at how a shift from a ‘risk paradigm’ – focused on calculation, management and control -, recasts our approaches across various domains such as finance and banking, technology regulation, critical infrastructure management, pandemic preparedness, disasters response and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The presentation was based on a forthcoming book – Navigating Uncertainty: Radical Rethinking for a Turbulent World – that will be out with Polity Press in 2024.

The roundtable underlined the need for a fundamental transformation in thinking and practice. Luckily, there is plenty to draw on – from the experience of pastoralists and others, but also the array of professionals in banks, control rooms, front-line health facilities, disaster response agencies, and more, who must navigate uncertainties constantly. This also means drawing on older traditions of thinking and practice from diverse disciplines, as well as non-Western thinking about dealing with uncertainty, that has been ignored or silenced in the pursuit of a particular style of modernity centred on management and control.

Last update: 19 October 2023

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