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Region-craft: An Ethnography of South Sudan's Transnational Intelligentsia

  • Author(s): Mondesire, Zachary
  • Advisor(s): Appel, Hannah C.
  • et al.

This dissertation argues that in the wake of South Sudan’s 2011 independence from Sudan, region has been remade through and around the world’s newest country. This project interrogates ideas about race, territory, and belonging as they have rendered synonymous two processes that seem affectively divergent: independence and partition. The ethnographic point of departure for the project is the insufficient liberation of political independence, the state violence, and suppression that has followed the initial euphoria of independence, and the border-crossing networks that South Sudan’s transnational intelligentsia have produced to navigate their disappointment in the government of South Sudan. Collective disappointment in the South Sudanese state is a primary site for the production of expansive ideas about home, belonging, and family. As dissident intellectuals continue to move and maintain social connections between cities in Sudan, South Sudan, and Kenya, these expansive attachments also reshape a broader regional space from which emerge political perspectives otherwise suppressed within the territorial borders of the nation-state. Following these dissident intellectuals in their region-making itinerancy, I trace the region that has been remade in the aftermath of South Sudan’s independence. The dissertation emphasizes how new geopolitical relationships come to be articulated as transnational ideas about home, border-crossing intimacies, and experiences of family that traverse national boundaries. The question of where South Sudan belongs—regionally, racially, and politically—has become increasingly relevant since its secession from Sudan in 2011. While the formerly unified Sudan generated decades of debate about identity at the African/Arab axis, the place of independent South Sudan has generated new questions about what it means to be East African. The geopolitical perspective of this dissertation extends in two directions to follow how race and space have been re-articulated in the aftermath of political independence. It extends northward to confront what I call the counterlinearity of liberation that has brought South Sudanese citizens back to the site of oppression after decades of war for self-determination. It also extends southward to address East Africa as a keyword containing the aspirations for South Sudan’s future as the state reorients itself seeking ethnic, religious, and economic alignment. This bifocality enables the interrogation of forms of difference in the Global South that take shape as not only derivative of European colonialism but also produced by intra-African logics of being, reason, and morality. To accomplish this multi-sited project, I have deployed what I call region-craft as a method and an analytic that combines the significance of regional economic and political unions, claims to border-crossing ethnic belonging, and the emotional attachments to home that exceed the boundaries of contemporary nation-states.

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