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Lost in Translation: The Resilience Challenge Among Turkana Herders, Kenya.
Ideas of resilience are not new. Etymologically grounded on post-classical Latin resilientia, resilience has travelled across several disciplines to a considerable stretch from its original meanings. It has become a “key political category of our time” (Neocleus 2013), being quickly modelled, operationalised, and implemented, despite a general lack of nuanced understanding of what it means. Rooted on a ‘system ontology’ it tends to ignore insiders’ perspectives, favouring instead outsiders’ and assembled definitions at various scales. For the case of pastoralist groups this translates into discussions about the state of pastoralism as a unitary entity and its prospects for survival, rather than the experiences of the people who practice it in their everyday life. Based on 14 months ethnographic fieldwork in Kenyan drylands, this paper draws on my PhD thesis on local meanings of resilience as reflected in the lifeways and experiences of Turkana herders, against outsiders’ interpretations as emerging from policy documents and development interventions. It presents three main dimensions of interest in reference to the concept of resilience as externally adopted (environment, livelihoods, and security) by flipping perspective and following herders’ eyes, decision making, and various forms of mobility. It emerges a radically different understanding of resilience, one which calls for a paradigm shift away from vulnerability towards potentiality. Resilience becomes a ‘quest of sight’ and entails ‘navigation skills’ of the social immediate and the social imaginary weaving dichotomies, such as outsiders and insiders, together through engagements across the social divide making the most from complex forms of variabilities.