ABSTRACT

Introduction Despite the persistent popular images of Maasai subsisting via a strategy of ‘pure’ pastoralism, contemporary communities across Maasailand are more typically characterized by diversified livelihood pursuits than by specialized livestock husbandry. This situation is familiar, since across Africa and elsewhere pastoralists today invariably mix and match economic activities to navigate an increasingly complex world of social, ecological, economic, and institutional constraints and opportunities, while often maintaining a deep commitment to rangeland livestock husbandry (Homewood 2008; Little et al. 2008). Rather than representing cultural essences or mechanistic responses to ecological conditions, livelihood practices reflect voluntaristic decisions that are both facilitated and limited by the larger socio-ecological context within which they are made (Little et al. 2001). Despite what appears to be the ubiquity of livelihood diversification, not all options are open to everyone. At a macro-level, factors such as ecological conditions, geographical location, governmental institutions, tenure regimes, and articulation with larger socio-economic systems contribute to a structure of constraints and opportunities that varies spatially and temporally and conditions agency. At a micro-level of individuals and families, factors such as gender, generation, ethnicity, educational attainment, wealth, and status influence the range of options available as people seek to maintain past practices or struggle to find new ways of making a living. These multiple factors intersect in decisionmaking processes, leading to diverse outcomes that may reinforce or transform patterns of wealth and poverty among individuals, families, and communities. Our larger project investigates causes and consequences of social change among Maasai communities in southern Kenya. Focusing on questions about the impacts of and the impetus for land tenure transformations and livelihood diversification, we seek to uncover and analyse broad trends common to the Maasai as a population, as well as variation in the experiences of individuals, families, and communities. Against the backdrop of increasingly diverse livelihood pursuits for Maasai in general, this chapter examines the poles along a spectrum diversification along which Maasai practices vary. Comparing the diversity found in patterns of diversification between the nine localities in our overall

study, we find in some sites a large number of houses committed to intensive, specialized livestock husbandry with limited involvement in non-pastoral activities. In other sites we find the inverse, a comparatively peripheral concern with livestock husbandry and more intensive focus on non-pastoral activities such as agriculture and various other income-generating activities. We argue that these divergent pathways of social change can be best explained through an examination of the way that multiple large-scale processes have coalesced into fields of possibility that vary between localities, shaping individual and family decisions into shared patterns. Understanding the macro-level factors that contribute to different patterns of livelihood diversification is an important aspect of examining the impacts of social change on families, local communities, and the Maasai as a whole, and, we hope, can inform ongoing debates about rangeland development policy and the future of pastoralist lands and societies.