Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Geography, University of Colorado / Boulder
Converting Pastures to Grasslands:State Interventions into Pastoral Livelihoods and Grassland Ecosystems of Tibet

This research project investigates a major Chinese government program launched in 2004, "converting pastures to grasslands," which calls for the removal of grazing from large areas of rangeland in Tibet for the purpose of restoring purportedly degraded pastures. Based on research in Nagchu Prefecture in Tibet, the proposed project investigates "converting pastures to grasslands" as a case study of how "received wisdom" environmental degradation narratives are used to justify state interventions into the livelihoods of minority pastoralists, a pattern experienced by pastoral peoples the world over. Tracing "converting pastures to grasslands" from its conceptualization in offices in Beijing to its implementation in Tibet, the project investigates the following research questions: Why do environmental narratives underpinning "converting pastures to grasslands" persist? What has been the process of translation from project formulation by the central government to local implementation? To what extent do traditional forms of grassland management system and Tibetan pastoralists' local knowledge conform to or contradict the assumptions of the project, and how does this affect pastoralists' response to the project? How are pastoralists accepting, rejecting, modifying or adapting to the project? The framework for analyzing the grazing removal project as a state intervention is informed broadly by political ecology. Within this conceptual framework, the project engages with several themes of political ecological research: the persistence and effects of environmental degradation narratives; equilibrium ecosystem assumptions in pastoral management; disaggregating the state; and theorizations of the effects of state interventions. Field research over a period of twelve months will use a mix of methods that include detailed household surveys, semi-structured interviews, oral histories, focus groups, transect walks, participatory mapping and participation observation.