Sedentarization as Constrained Adaptation: Evidence from Pastoral Regions in Far Northwestern China

Chuan Liao, Ding Fei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This paper examines the effect of a state-led sedentarization scheme on pastoralist adaptation in northern Xinjiang, China. Drawing on surveys and semi-structured interviews with 159 Kazak pastoral households, our results indicate that socio-environmental challenges made extensive herding more tenuous but less profitable. Consequently, certain pastoralists voluntarily adopted sedentarization under state facilitation, although this process was accompanied with declines in household income and asset holdings. Our findings suggest that pastoralists were subject to the combined effects of institutional push and socio-environmental risks, making sedentarization seemingly the only viable choice. We thus argue that pastoral sedentarization in northern Xinjiang represents a constrained adaptation strategy. Future policy should build on pastoralists’ motivation to sedentarize and seek their knowledge to facilitate adaptive development in the pastoral regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-35
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • China
  • Kazak
  • Pastoralism
  • Sedentarization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Ecology


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