Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for Daniel Murphy: Absentee Herd-Ownership and Common Property Resource Management in Rural Mongolia

  • Little, Peter (PI)
  • Murphy, Daniel (CoI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Increasingly, scholars argue that the decentralization of resource management authority can expose local resource management institutions to the adverse impacts of market integration and growing economic inequality. However, there is little empirical research to support this; therefore, this project aims to explore whether or not this is the case. The researcher will accomplish this through an in-depth ethnographic study of absentee herd-ownership and common-property resource management institutions in Bayankhutag, a pastoral district in rural Mongolia. The study seeks to determine whether or not absentee herd-ownership, a result of increasing market integration and growing economic inequality, weakens the ability of local institutions to effectively regulate common property resource use. The researcher hypothesizes that absentee herd-owner herd management and resource use practices are tied to market-oriented production strategies, that these practices contravene local norms of resource use and lead to conflict, and that absentee herd-owners are less susceptible to enforcement and sanction than other resource users. In order to collect data that will test these hypotheses the research will use a range of ethnographic methods including participant observation, semi-structured interviewing, household surveys, and case studies. An initial exploratory household survey will collect demographic and economic data in order to establish the level of household market orientation as well as frame the population for a stratified random sample of absentee herdowning households and non-absentee herd-owning households for a total of 35 households. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with sampled households in order to collect data on herd management and resource use practices and decision-making. Key informant interviews will be conducted on common-property resource management institutions including the kinds of social norms, rules, ethics, obligations, and sanctions that regulate resource use. Case studies ofresource conflicts will explore whether or not local institutions can effectively monitor, sanction and enforce absentee herd-owner practices. After collection, qualitative data will coded according to themes. When coding of the data has been finished, individual responses, household responses, and observed behaviors will be compared in order to generate answers to the research questions. Quantitative data collected through the survey and drawn from qualitative methods will be statistically analyzed in order to tabulate simple correlations and frequencies of particular observed behaviors and responses. Support for all three hypotheses will demonstrate that absentee herd ownership does weaken the ability of local resource management institutions to effectively regulate resource use and should strengthen theories that argue that decentralization can in fact weaken common property resource management institutions. This proposed research contributes to several areas of scholarly work. Firstly, this study will add to a growing body of detailed anthropological and social science research on the ways in which broader systematic changes affect local modes of production and resource use. In particular, this study will contribute to a deeper empirical and theoretical understanding of common property systems. Secondly, the results of the study will also fill significant gaps in the anthropological literature on pastoralism. Despite the focus in the literature on the effects of market integration and growing inequality on common property resource management institutions in pastoral societies, no in-depth fieldwork has investigated these issues in the context of state decentralization. This is critical because there is growing support for decentralization in pastoral regions. Moreover, few researchers have made the involvement in the pastoral economy by absentee herd-owners a central focus of study. Addressing this lacuna is critical because absentee herd-ownership is an increasingly common feature of pastoral economies globally and could pose significant problems for the sustainability of common property systems and consequently for the lives of the pastoral poor who depend on those resources. Thirdly, in-depth ethnographic research in the new post-socialist states of Central and Inner Asia is lacking and Mongolia, in particular, has received limited attention. This study aims to amend this bias. In addition to its scholarly significance, this research also has broader policy implications. Decentralization and community-based resource management models are becoming dominant paradigms for resource management reform. However, these programs are being called into question as these policies have led to the reverse effect from what common property theories predict. Improved knowledge on the politics of resource use in common property systems and the relationships between the state, the market and resource users is critical in order to facilitate the development ofresource management models that are both flexible and powerful enough to enforce sustainable resource use.
Effective start/end date9/1/072/28/09


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