Panel 06

Addressing the sedentist bias in development

Stefania Pontrandolfo, Cory Rodgers, Greta Semplici, Marco Solimene, Dawn Chatty

Giovedì 16 dicembre 2021
  Facoltà di lettere e filosofia

Throughout modern history, states have treated ‘mobile societies’ – a term that is intended to encompass nomadic peoples such as pastoralists as well as itinerant service-provider communities such as Travellers and some Romani groups – as a threat to progress and stability and an anomaly to be corrected (Chatty 2006). Attempts to subdue, isolate, and settle these groups have pervaded the history of ‘sedentist’ statecraft (Malkki 1992) and international development paradigms (Bakewell 2008), and anthropologists have documented both colonial and post-colonial projects aimed at the sedentarisation of mobile peoples, often in the name of modernisation (Campbell 2004).

However, relative to ‘sedentarisation’, the notion of ‘sedentism’ has not received sustained attention in development studies. While policies that explicitly target nomadism and other forms of mobility as a pathology or threat have been widely described and criticised, there has been relatively less attention to the more implicit sedentist biases in mainstream development thinking. An examination of sedentism would consider, for example, how infrastructure projects, education and employment programmes, and healthcare interventions have contributed to the immobilisation, social fission and political marginalisation of mobile peoples, and often undermined their livelihoods.

This panel proposes an exploration of the multiple ways in which a sedentist bias may impact on planning, evaluation and implementation of local development projects, thereby contributing to exclude and marginalise mobile peoples. The focus is both on EU cohesion policies (especially within the framework of the Next Generation programme and the Italian PNRR) and on international cooperation. We welcome contributions based on ethnographic fieldwork, applied anthropology action-research, or professional work experiences reconsidered through an anthropological lens, with the aim to expand comparison and dialogue between different knowledges, competences, and expertise, opening a reflection on sedentist bias in development, and re-imagining development frames that better accommodate mobile peoples’ livelihoods and lifestyles.

KEYWORDS: sedentist bias, development, mobile peoples, international cooperation, EU cohesion policies

Bakewell O. 2008, «‘Keeping them in their place’: The ambivalent relationship between development and migration in Africa», Third World Quarterly, 29 (7), pp. 1341-1358.
Campbell J. R. 2004, «Ethnic Minorities and Development: A Prospective Look at the Situation of African Pastoralists and Hunter-Gatherers», in Ethnicities, 4 (1), pp. 5–26.
Chatty D. 2006, Nomadic Societies in the Middle East and North Africa, Brill, Laiden.
Malkki L. 1992, «National geographic. The rooting of peoples and the territorialization of national identity among scholars and refugees», Cultural Anthropology, 7 (1), pp. 24-44.

Stefania Pontrandolfo is associate professor of socio-cultural anthropology at the Verona University. She carried out ethnographic studies in various contexts, mainly dealing with the culture, history and society of groups of Roma living in Southern Italy or those that have migrated from Romania to Italy.

Marco Solimene is post-doctoral researcher at the anthropology department of the University of Iceland. His research activities revolve around Roma-related issues in Europe; at the moment he is investigating conceptualizations and practices of space and movement on the part of a group of Bosnian Muslim Roma.

Cory Rodgers is an anthropologist based at the Oxford Department of International Development. His research in Turkana County, Kenya, describes how development-induced social differentiation is giving rise to intra-ethnic schisms between the growing town-based populations and the rural majority of mobile pastoralists.

Greta Semplici, Max Weber Fellow at European University Institute and PASTRES Postdoc Affiliate. She earned a PhD from the Oxford Department of International Development with a study on resilience, development, and pastoralism in North Kenya, Turkana County. Her research interests lie on mobility/migration, nomadism, pastoralism, development/humanitarianism, placemaking and relationality.

Dawn Chatty is Emeritus Professor in Anthropology and Forced Migration and former Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. She was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2015. Her research interests include refugee youth in protracted refugee crises, conservation and development, pastoral society and forced settlement. She is the author of Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East, Cambridge University Press, 2010; From Camel to Truck, White Horse Press, 2013, and Syria: The Making and Unmaking of a Refuge State, Hurst Publishers, 2018.

Stefania Pontrandolfo, stefania.pontrandolfo[at] 

Cory Rodgers, cory.rodgers[at]

Greta Semplici, greta.semplici[at]

Marco Solimene, solimene[at]

Dawn Chatty, awn.chatty[at]