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The Politics of ScaleA History of Rangeland Science$
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Nathan F. Sayre

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226083117

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226083391.001.0001

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The Western Range Goes Global

The Western Range Goes Global

Neo-Malthusianism and Pastoral Development

(p.165) Six The Western Range Goes Global
The Politics of Scale

Nathan F. Sayre

University of Chicago Press

Range science was the only institutionalized science dedicated to rangelands when international pastoral development programs began following World War II. The concept of carrying capacity lay at the heart of a rising neo-Malthusianism in public debates and foreign policy circles, and the imperative of controlling stocking rates merged seamlessly with calls to prevent overpopulation from driving the world’s poor into the communists’ arms. None of their internal debates and frustrations at home prevented range scientists from taking the stage at major international conferences to proclaim the value of their knowledge. They presented the Southwest not as evidence of their own failure but as proof of the urgency to intervene in other arid and semi-arid rangelands to prevent “desertification”; outside capital was constructed as the solution rather than the cause of rangeland degradation. The World Bank and other multilateral agencies took ranching and range science as the model of modern livestock production, and the socio-spatial order and blind spots embedded in the discipline were imposed on pastoral communities and rangelands in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Drought and famine in the Sahel, coupled with the idea of the tragedy of the commons, lent breathless urgency and political cover to these measures.

Keywords:   desertification, drought, famine, overpopulation, pastoral development, Sahel, tragedy of the commons

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