Across Species and National Boundaries: Transhumance in 21st Century Europe

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 132 (University of Glasgow)
Susanne Barbara Unger , Anthropology, American University
Humans have practiced transhumance for thousands of years -- herding livestock across different regions during seasonal migrations. Pastoralism helps cultivate natural landscapes and fosters the proliferation of indigenous plants while also preventing soil erosion. In recent years, pastoralists had to respond to new environmental and economic challenges. In Germany, the heavy use of slurry in agriculture results in shepherds not being able to let the sheep graze along traditional migratory routes. Most shepherds who used to migrate seasonally have had to give up this practice within the past few years, effectively abandoning a long-lived cultural and professional tradition. In Southern European countries, an increase in desertification reduces grazing areas for pastoralists. Pastoralists therefore encounter the challenges of sustainability and transformation on a daily basis.

These environmental challenges have led to the formation of new transnational alliances among European pastoralists, including the formation of the European Shepherds Network. The group has organized conferences that were attended by pastoralists from numerous European countries; attendees demanded greater recognition of the environmental benefits of pastoralism and protested EU legislation that regulates animal husbandry.

Strong local and regional identities are often viewed as antithetical to a pan-European identity. Yet the pastoralists’ alliances show that a strong rootedness in local traditions can create solidarity among a group of pastoralist citizens across Europe, overriding national and linguistic boundaries. I propose that studying the recent emergence and demands of international pastoralists’ networks offers a lens for understanding opportunities for European integration at (quite literally) the grassroots level.

  • CES Talk 7.10.2017 UNGER.pdf (2.2 MB)