Technicisation of Migration in the Context of South Sudanese in Sudan

The ongoing existence of mobile populations from South Sudan to Sudan opens up the necessity for several research questions, this project will look at two of those from an anthropological perspective. 

First, humanitarian actors’ efforts and attempts at population management are put into question by the growing challenges they are facing. This is especially difficult in the case of South Sudaneses refugees (and refugee camps), who are tremendously underfunded. The research will try to look at the complexity and administrative responses of the way international, national and non-governmental organisations deal with large numbers of individuals and their own internal challenges and shortages. To achieve this, I will attempt to understand the techniques employed by such organisations, ideally conducting research within international organizations at their headquarters or in their respective field offices. Depending on access, I will conduct and collect interviews, observation and documents such as work plans and organisational charts. The theoretical focus of the study bases on the observation that governments, as well as international organisations and (I)NGOs that run refugee camps use numerical representations in order to understand and manage populations (for provision of services). Such quantification of social phenomena has been an increasingly significant aspect of the paradigm shift regarding ideas of governance, which have followed the ideal of liberal democracy and capitalist market logic since the 1980s, gaining new momentum particularly in the last decade (Rottenburg and Merry 2015). This quantifications -often born out of necessity due to rising numbers of people and increased decisions based on economic rationalities due to limited funding - involves a decrease in interaction and in feedback loops and in the extreme the danger of looking at populations as mere numerical objects and has the potential to disregard their performativity.

Second, in order to understand the performative adaptations of the people subjected to and profiting from those techniques, the project focuses on the hopes and integration mechanisms of people (formerly) on the move. People on the move partially gain knowledge of their rights through the internet or interpersonal networks, for example about the advantages and disadvantages of certain types of categories in interaction with humanitarian actors. In similar ways, they also keep in touch, exchange money, and organize individualised charity or relief to families in South Sudan. This performativity of South Sudanese is co-shaped by the new accessibility of social media (mobile phones and internet) which has been instrumental to displaced populations themselves, who, in their own right, are seeking personal security to organize their lives, hopes and plans for the future and which try to position themselves in favorable positions (in life, but also for example in databases). People on the move gain knowledge of their rights through the internet or interpersonal networks, about the advantages and disadvantages of such categories as ‘refugee’, ‘internally displaced persons’ or ‘in need’, about further routes, in both physical and imagined senses. They also keep in touch, exchange money, and organize charity or relief to families in conflict areas. Looking at actions taken towards personal live improvement means studying positive efforts of seeking well-being and highlights sometimes immaterial and intangible factors that guide people’s actions, in the present case, that of hope. Thus, the research looks at the importance of hope as fundamentally human motivating emotion in situations of crisis and its complex relation with the external host of institutions, networks and knowledges that come into play. Importantly, it allows for sensitivity to the emotions and personal imaginations of ordinary actors on the ground, a concept that I call ‘hope’. Hope has been theorized by anthropologists as one manifestation of insecurity that can lead to action (Appadurai 2007; Miyazaki 2004, 2006; Pedersen 2012; Zournazi 2002). Mary Zournazi sees as one of the origins of hope ‘belief and faith, and the trust that there is a life worth living in uncertain times’ (Zournazi 2002, 16). Hope is an important agent in insecurity, since it is ‘what people do when they have no firm ground, in the form of a stable economic, religious, or political cosmos, on which to build their ideas of the future’ (Pedersen 2012, 6). This situation is true for mobile populations as well as for organisations in changing environment. Hope is an enacting and transformative agent, since acting on improbable possibilities instead of probable likelihoods avoids the ‘risk [of] being imprisoned by the present’ (Pedersen 2012, 13).

Hope understood not only as a personal feeling, but also as a research method and strategy is central to understanding peoples’ drive for the improvement of their respective lives. It allows for positive questions in difficult circumstances, since hope is a method to co-enact that future situation. I therefore ask how hope is related to the promise of new technologies such as, for example, social media, maps, mobile cash transfer? In what exact ways are hope and technologies an enacting agent to people in insecure moments of life?

Overall, the research tries to address the impact of technologies understood as models and as technical devices on the lives of refugees.


Appadurai, Arjun. 2007. “Hope and Democracy.” Public Culture 19 (1): 29–34.

Miyazaki, Hirokazu. 2004. The Method of Hope: Anthropology, Philosophy, and Fijian Knowledge. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

———. 2006. “Economy of Dreams: Hope in Global Capitalism and Its Critiques.” Cultural Anthropology 21 (2): 147–72.

Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2012. “A Day in the Cadillac: The Work of Hope in Urban Mongolia.” Social Analysis 56 (2): 136–51.

Zournazi, Mary. 2002. Hope: New Philosophies for Change. Psychology Press.

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