Uncertain Worlds: seven stories about uncertainty

Published on 17 October 2023

If you can’t control or predict the future, how can you prepare for it? Uncertainty can be scary, but can it also be a source of hope or opportunity?


A new series from the IDS co-hosted PASTRES programme of seven illustrated stories explores uncertainty in the worlds of economics, banking and finance; migration; pandemic preparedness and response; social protection and humanitarian aid; insurance; and knowledge for development.

The stories draw on lessons from pastoralists – people who herd animals over large areas in many different places, from high mountains and hills to drylands and deserts. Pastoralists are experts at living with uncertainty and making the most of it. Their ways of life can also help us think about how to live in an uncertain world.

The stories are a collaboration between Brighton-based artist Daniel Locke and the authors of the academic research papers on which each story is based, linked to the ERC PASTRES project (Pastoralism, Uncertainty, Resilience: Global Lessons from the Margins).

View each comic strip below

Lessons from Pastoralists

Uncertainty is all around. How does the policy world respond? Dominant approaches are often about exerting control, but it is possible to take a more open, caring approach to uncertainties.

To explore more about this story please click the below link.

Confronting uncertainties in pastoral areas: transforming development from control to care, Ian Scoones, Social Anthropology, June 2023

Economics, banking and finance

The financial crash of 2007-8 exposed the banking system’s reliance on complex algorithms and models. Could bankers and economists rediscover older ideas about uncertainties and ‘unknown unknowns’, and what could they learn from pastoralists?

To explore more about this story please click the below link.

Economics for an uncertain world, George F. DeMartino, Ilene Grabel and Ian Scoones, World Development


Many migration policies focus on stability, regularity and control. But the lives of migrants themselves are often uncertain, unpredictable and variable. How could policy makers learn from the strategies and experiences of people on the move?

To explore more about this story please click the below link.

Embracing uncertainty: rethinking migration policy through pastoralists’ experiences, Natasha Maru, Michele Nori, Ian Scoones, Greta Semplici and Anna Triandafyllidou, Comparative Migration Studies


When disease outbreaks occur, policies often try to control or manage them. But pandemics are uncertain and unpredictable. Taking account of varied knowledges, cultures and settings could help with more flexible responses over time and space.

To explore more about this story please click the below link.

Rethinking disease preparedness: incertitude and the politics of knowledge, Melissa Leach, Hayley MacGregor, Santiago Ripoll, Ian Scoones and Annie Wilkinson, Critical Public Health

Social assistance and humanitarian relief

Social assistance and humanitarian reliefIn conflicts, crises and disasters, uncertainties are common. So why are many humanitarian, social assistance and disaster relief operations based on risk assessment and management, where stability and predictability are assumed?

To explore more about this story please click the below link.

Providing social assistance and humanitarian relief: The case for embracing uncertainty, Matteo Caravani, Jeremy Lind, Rachel Sabates-Wheeler and Ian Scoones, Development Policy Review

Insurance and moral economy

Insurance is increasingly offered to pastoralists as a way to protect against loss from droughts, floods and other hazards. But pastoralists also draw on older practices of mobility, sharing and moral economy.

To explore more about this story please click the below link.

Uncertainty in the drylands: Rethinking in/formal insurance from pastoral East Africa, Leigh Johnson, Tahira Mohamed, Ian Scoones and Masresha Taye, Environmental and Planning A: Economy and Space

High Reliability Knowledge Networks

Critical infrastructures like power stations, electricity grids and air traffic control need to be highly reliable, despite variability and surprise. Pastoralism can be thought of as a ‘critical infrastructure’ too. It depends on strong local knowledge networks, as well as ‘reliability professionals’ who connect knowledge and people together.

To explore more about this story please click the below link.

High Reliability Knowledge Networks: Responding to Animal Diseases in a Pastoral Area of Northern Kenya, Alex Tasker and Ian Scoones, The Journal of Development Studies

Find out more about the PASTRES programme

To view the comics, and to read the open access academic papers on which they are based, please visit the Uncertain Worlds page on the PASTRES programme website.

An exhibition of the stories will be shown in Brighton, UK on 25-29 October 2023.

Attend a PASTRES exhibition, Brighton UK 25-29 Oct

Key contacts

Nathan Oxley

Impact Communications and Engagement Officer

+44 (0)1273 915826


About this news item

Related content


Informal Economy Perspectives on the Prevalence of Worst Forms of Child Labour in Bangladesh’s Leather Industry

CLARISSA Research and Evidence Paper 8

A.K.M. Maksud & 3 others

21 May 2024