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Elliot Fratkin

Professor of Anthropology
Gwendolen Carter Professor of African Studies

email Send Email office Office: Wright Hall 204 phone Phone: 413-585-3338
Office Hours: Spring 2016: T 11-12, W 2:30-3:30 & by appointment

Elliot FratkinElliot Fratkin received his 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, all in cultural anthropology. His 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. Much of Fratkin's work focuses on Ariaal pastoralists of northern Kenya. The Ariaal people 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. Fratkin's initial research focused on Ariaal social organization, cultural ecology and ritual life.

Interviewing Samburu Laibon medicine men, with Richard Waller

In the 1980s Fratkin turned his attention to issues of development and change, particularly focusing on what happened to Kenyan pastoralists during periods of drought and famine. During that time the Ariaal and Rendille communities became recipients of humanitarian relief from many international organizations, including the Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision. One consequence of those 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, Fratkin participated in a three-year study that examined the health and nutrition effects of the settling of Ariaal and Rendille people. He collaborated with his wife, Marty Nathan, M.D., and Eric Roth, an anthropologist at the University of Victoria, Canada. They found that settled children had higher levels of malnutrition and illnesses than the pastoralists, which they attributed to a lack of milk animals in the settled communities.

Fulbright Teaching at the University of Asmara, Eritrea

In 2002 and 2003, Fratkin served as a consultant with the World Bank Inspection Panel, which was investigating complaints about the building of the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. In 2003, he was a U.S. Fulbright Scholar teaching at the University of Asmara, Eritrea, and in 2011–12, he served as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar teaching anthropology at Hawassa University, Ethiopia. In addition, Fratikin has visited pastoral populations in Mongolia, Botswana, Ethiopia and, in 2007, he led a Smith alumnae tour to Mali, visiting the Bambara, Dogon, Fulani and Tuareg people.

Fratkin serves on the steering committee of Smith's Environmental Science and Policy program, African Studies Program, and the Global South Development Program. He is a faculty adviser for the Five Colleges Certificate in African Studies and the Culture, Health, and Science Program.

Click here to see Elliot Fratkin's blog about teaching and doing research in Ethiopia.

Lijiang, Yunnan Province China

With Bakola Pygmies, Cameroon

With Smith Alumnae tour of Mali

With the Laibon Kanikis Leaduma in Northern Kenya 2012

Hawassa University Students Heritage Day, Ethiopia

Mongolia with Smith Alumna and NGO organizer

Selected Publications

Selected Books

Laibon: An Anthropologist's Journey with Samburu Diviners in Kenya, AltaMira Press, 2012

Ariaal Pastoralists of Kenya: Studying Pastoralism, Drought, and Development in Africa's Arid Lands, Pearson, 2004

As Pastoralists Settle: Social, Health, and Economic Consequences of the Pastoral Sedentarization in Marsabit District, Kenya, Elliot Fratkin and Eric Abella Roth (editors), Springer, 2005

Laibon   Ariaal Pastoralists of Kenya   As Pastoralists Settle