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Contested Affluence: Cultural Politics of Pashmina Wealth and Wildlife Conservation in Ladakh

The Economics of Ecology, Exchange, and Adaptation: Anthropological Explorations

ISBN: 978-1-78635-228-6, eISBN: 978-1-78635-227-9

Publication date: 1 September 2016



This chapter attempts to critically examine the wildlife conservation discourse that argues for curtailing the livestock grazing inside the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, situated on the India’s international borders with China in southeast Ladakh. The conventional conservation discourse points at the (supposed) greed of the Changpa pastoralists in accumulating an increasing number of pashmina goats as a primary environmental cause of wildlife loss in Changthang; however, there is a critical lack of insight into the political and historical mechanisms that lie within the dynamic interaction between resource access and socio-economic inequalities, critical for understanding Changpa pastoralism today.

Methodology/approach and findings

Ethnographic inquiry into the Changpa economy before the closure of Ladakh–Tibet border trade in 1962, and afterwards, has highlighted the political and economic transformations in the area, as well as the cultural politics of market integration and increasing inabilities of the mobile Changpa pastoralists to access vital productive resources. Inequalities reflected in the contemporary livestock data, acquired from the pastoralists, underscore the processes of institutional bricolage, non-cooperative labour, exchange/wage herding and capital-dominated market networks, making pastoralism impossible for several of the households.


The chapter argues against making livestock withdrawal a major aim of conservation sciences. It calls instead for the recognition of state-provisioned commodified pashmina rearing, seen through the prism of changing abilities and shifting institutions, where unequal access to productive resources is a reflection of both historical dispossessions and also economic impoverishments of Changpa today.




This research was financially supported by the Australian Postgraduate Award, Joyce Riley Scholarship, Ford Foundation and the University of Western Australian Top-Up Scholarship, School Graduate Research Funds and the PhD completion scholarship and the institutional support by the University of Western Australia, Western Australia and the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University. I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to the people of Rupshu, specifically from Korzok and Tegazun, whose extended friendships of the last two decades have helped shape this research. I am also deeply indebted to two anonymous reviewers for providing insightful comments and directions to improve this chapter at the last stages.


Sabharwal, A. (2016), "Contested Affluence: Cultural Politics of Pashmina Wealth and Wildlife Conservation in Ladakh", The Economics of Ecology, Exchange, and Adaptation: Anthropological Explorations (Research in Economic Anthropology, Vol. 36), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 77-113.



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