Coffee Hour: Can my mother forget about me?...

Friday, October 11, 2013 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Refreshments are offered at 3:30 p.m. in the E. Willard Miller seminar room, 319 Walker Building The lecture begins at 4:00 p.m. in the John J. Cahir Auditorium, 112 Walker Building

NOTE: Due to a technical problem, a recording of this talk is not available.



“Can my mother forget about me?”  Land, authority, and return migration in post-conflict South Sudan


About the talk

Since 2005, more than 2 million displaced people have returned to villages, towns, and cities across South Sudan to begin rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. The case of high volume return migration to South Sudan poses the question of what such significant population movement means for property relations and political authority in a struggling economy seeking to recover from more than five decades of violent conflict. It has been widely recognized that armed conflict can produce new regimes of land and resource control, particularly when linked to population displacement. And as people return home after the end of fighting, the issue of land and resource control is often at the center of competing claims among military actors, new political elites, internally displaced people, and returnees.


In the talk, I discuss the shifting relations that determine access to land and other productive resources in a small rural town that experienced both significant displacement during the war and a considerable influx of returnees in the post conflict period. Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in South Sudan, I offer an analysis of the practical reworking of both political authority and property relations by showing how social norms relating to the legitimacy of autochthonous claims allowed returnees to assert authority over land and resource rights. While this process can be read as a Polanyian re-embedding of the economy within social life, we must remain attentive to the exclusionary edge of such neo-traditional cultural practices through which authority over land is reclaimed.

About the speaker

Leoni NewhouseLéonie Newhouse is a visiting assistant professor in African Studies at Penn State. She completed her Ph.D. in geography at the University of Washington in 2012. Her scholarship takes a feminist approach to the intersection of global geopolitics, migration, international development and humanitarian response. Her dissertation, South Sudan, Oyee! A Political Economy of Refugee Return Migration to Chukudum, South Sudan, was nominated for the University of Washington's 2013 Distinguished Dissertation Award. It examines the everyday practices that govern gender, generation, and resource rights, relating these to histories of displacement and an emerging political economy of hyper-precarious work in South Sudan and East Africa more broadly. Newhouse earned a M.Sc. in Forced Migration from Oxford, and a B.S. in Environmental Economics and Policy from the University of California at Berkeley.  She has held visiting positions at the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of the Law. Her research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Bucerius Scholarship in Migration Studies, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.