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Sipke Shaughnessy BA MPhil

Sipke Shaughnessy BA MPhil

PhD Candidate, St John's College

My research looks at the history of the Ilng'wesi Maasai in Laikipia, Kenya to assess the extent to which pastoral livelihoods are fundamentally changing in response to exogenous factors.



  • 2015: MPhil (Distinction) African Studies, St John's College, University of Cambridge.
  • 2014: BA (Hons.) Social Anthropology, St John's College, University of Cambridge

Awards and scholarships

  • Full ESRC-DTC Studentship, 2015-2018
  • St John's College Scholarship, 2014-2018
  • Davidson Scholarship, 2014-2015; 2012-2013


My research combines ethnography and archival work in looking at how Ilng'wesi Maasai pastoralists in northern Laikipia, Kenya have adapted and responded to ongoing political and economic changes. I am tracing the Ilng'wesi's transitions from hunting and gathering, to (mostly) subsistence pastoralism, through to the diversified livelihood strategies and partly market-oriented pastoralism they practice today. I situate these changes in the political and economic contexts of colonial and post-colonial Kenya to argue that Ilng'wesi livelihoods have regularly been in a state of flux or transition, and to argue against crisis narratives of imminent 'collapse'.

I augment this by arguing for a broader, practice-focused definition of pastoralism, so as to examine how contemporary pastoral identity and indigenous knowledge is embedded in a wider set of practices than those commonly examined (namely livestock herding techniques). These include election campaigns (my fieldwork took place during the 2017 Kenyan general elections), stock theft, livestock market forecasting, storytelling and rumour, and musical performance. I argue that recognising such practices as fundamental elements of contemporary pastoralism might lead us to less negative conclusions regarding pastoralist futures.

External activities

  • Member: British Institute in Eastern Africa
  • Member: RGS Historical Geography Research Group