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|List Affiliations:||Reviewer for H-Africa
|Interests:||African History / Studies
I received my B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, M. Phil. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America (1987), all in cultural anthropology. My research focuses on life and social change among nomadic pastoralists—people who live and move with their domestic livestock and who are found largely in the arid regions of the world. In the last half century, many former nomads have settled in small towns or farms to take up other types of lives. Much of my work focuses on Ariaal pastoralists of northern Kenya. Ariaal are a cultural mix of two larger groups, cattle keeping Samburu and camel keeping Rendille, and are related to the larger cluster of Maasai peoples of East Africa.
My initial fieldwork in the 1970s focused on Ariaal social organization, cultural ecology and ritual life including the activity of laibon medicine men. In the 1980s I turned my attention to issues of development and change, particularly what happened to Kenyan pastoralists during periods of drought and famine. Ariaal and Rendille communities were largely isolated in the 1970s, but during the 1980s they became recipients of humanitarian relief of many international organizations, including the Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision. One consequence of these changes was a large scale settling of former pastoralists, particularly poor people who did not have enough livestock to subsist as they had before. In the 1990s, I participated in a three-year study which examined the health and nutrition effects of settling of Ariaal and Rendille people, in collaboration with my wife Marty Nathan, M.D. and Eric Roth, an anthropologist at the University of Victoria Canada. We found that settled children had higher levels of malnutrition and illnesses than the pastoralists, which we attributed to lack of milk animals in the settled communities.
A huge lure of cultural anthropology is the opportunity to study, work and travel in foreign countries, and I have been very fortunate in this respect. In 2002 and 2003 I served as a consultant with the World Bank Inspection Panel investigating complaints about the building of the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline. In 2003, I was a Fulbright Scholar teaching at the University of Asmara, Eritrea, and in 2011-2012 I am serving as a US Fulbright Scholar teaching anthropology at Hawassa University in Ethiopia. I have visited pastoral populations in Mongolia, and in 2007, I led a Smith Alumnae tour to Mali, where we visited Bambara, Dogon, Fulani and Tuareg people.
My research directly informs my teaching at Smith. My courses include ANT 130 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology; ANT 241 The Anthropology of Development; ANT 230 Africa: Population, Environment, and Health; and ANT 236 Economy, Ecology and Society. In addition, I teach the senior seminar Topics in Development Anthropology, which in the past has included the Anthropology of NGOs, Health issues in Africa, and Traditional Medicine. Follow Elliot Fratkin's adventures currently teaching and doing research in Ethiopia