Monthly Archives: March 2014

Violence, humanitarianism and rights: Storytelling amongst Congolese refugees in Uganda

Katie McQuaid//Anthropology//2nd April//1-2 pm//Room C233

Please note the change of venue! This weeks’ seminar will be in room C233.


Upon fleeing the complex and violent conflicts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, men, women, youth and children are remaking their worlds as refugees in Uganda. Amongst them are a number of young people who are known as la voix des sans voix, the “voice of the voiceless”. These are Congolese human rights defenders forced to flee violent persecution for their rights activism in Eastern DRC, fighting for the voices and rights of their communities to be heard, defended, and respected. Living in a region wracked by complex and enduring violence, for many in the DRC ‘human rights’ – les droits de l’homme – are understood as people: those who strive to protect and defend them in a landscape of violence and fear where “the population protects people”. Based upon long-term ethnographic fieldwork with Congolese human rights defenders forced to flee into Uganda as refugees, this lecture directs our attention to the voices of these young people and those they strive to protect. Within my wider project of exploring how rights emerge in practice amongst Congolese refugees, this lecture explores the everyday lives and narratives of the young people who are human rights in the imaginaries of the population of Eastern DRC. Rights work in the process, for these defenders, becomes “my nature, it is in my blood” as they work within a dynamic but oppressed civil society.


Katie is currently completing her doctoral thesis in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sussex after two years of ethnographic fieldwork (2011-2012) amongst Congolese refugees in Uganda. She focuses upon the ways refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo imagine, articulate and frame their everyday local understandings and experiences of violence, conflict, forced displacement, human rights and humanitarianism in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Part of her work explores the lived realities of sexual minority refugees from DRC, Rwanda and Burundi fleeing into Uganda; and the activities of Congolese human rights defenders at home and in ‘refuge’.

Katie holds an MA in Social Anthropology (University of Edinburgh, 2007) and in the Anthropology of Conflict, Violence and Conciliation (University of Sussex, 2008), and an MSc in Comparative and Cross-Cultural Research Methods (University of Sussex, 2010). She worked with the Refugee Law Project in Uganda between 2011 and 2012.



Diverse Forms of Environmental Participation: Case Studies of Mining in China and India

Pin-Hsien Wu//International Development//26th of March//1-2 pm//Arts C133




This lecture presents parts of the findings of my PhD research, which is based on the fieldwork conducted in China and India during 2011 to 2012. The research aims to understand how different social actors conceptualise the environment and mobilise nature. One of my research objectives is to present how people, especially those filtered out and left behind in the progress of regional development, struggle with the environmental degradation and interact with it – and that is how I define ‘participation’ in a broad manner.

The case studies focus particularly on rural areas of the so-called ‘coal capital’ of the two countries. While the coal supplement in each of the countries fulfils more than 70% of the national energy requirement and facilitates the national economic growth, the living standards of my field sites are on the dark side of inequality. However, only little initiatives organised by non-governmental agents were found in response to the environmental crisis caused by the coal development – in my Chinese case, there was none. Does it mean that the ‘environmental participation’ is weak or absent there? To elaborate this question, I felt the need to reconsider the definition of ‘participation’, and what I learned from my informants is that people are demanding ‘participation’ in the environment-development dilemma; however, this could be realised in various forms. The presentation will illustrate some different performances of environmental participation those have been noticed during the study, and their value for further analyses in my dissertation will be addressed.

Brief biography:

Pin-Hsien Wu is a doctoral student in Development Studies at the University of Sussex. She received her master’s degree in Cultural Studies and bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Before returning to education, she worked for three years with Taiwanese and Indian NGOs, mainly those focusing on Environmental Impact Assessment procedure, environmental education and information disclosure. The work experience leads her to question the different definitions and practices of ‘environmental rights’ in diverse cultural contexts, and forms the basis of her PhD research on comparing environmental campaigns in China and India.

Islamic education reform in Senegal: Development meets “Game of Thrones”

Anneke Newman//Anthropology//19th of March//1-2 pm//Arts C133


Development policies are often designed at international and national levels, without rigorous understanding of local contexts. While projects might have the potential to meet the demands and needs of marginalised people, they can be thwarted by powerful local actors seeking to maintain the status quo. Awareness of these processes is key to understanding resistance and facilitating positive change. In this lecture I use the example of Islamic education reform in Senegal to show how using an anthropological lens, specifically the politics of kinship conflicts, which I refer as a “Game of Thrones”, proves useful in comprehending local development dynamics. In Senegal, a predominantly Muslim country in francophone West Africa, there is a strongly embedded system of schools dating from the precolonial period dedicated to teaching the Qur’an. While this education still holds important social value, there is also local demand for improvement in the conditions of these schools, and integration of other subjects like Arabic and French literacy. Since 2000, the government, UNICEF and other NGOs have been engaged in policies of Islamic education reform to meet these needs. During my fieldwork in one village in 2011-2012 I could see no evidence of these reforms despite over a decade of implementation. Trying to understand why, I found that some Muslim leaders resist reforms to their schools seeing it as neo-colonial intervention. However, this justification masks how their positions also reflect personal interests and power struggles linked to 1) kinship conflicts around inheritance, and 2) family-based networks of patronage with local and national politicians. This application of anthropological tools to grasp the local reception of school reform development projects is useful for students of international education, as well as applied anthropology, and development studies more generally.

During her time at Sussex since 2006, Anneke has bounced between registration at IDS, and the departments of education and development studies, before finally settling on anthropology. Insights from all these disciplines have informed her approach to her PhD. Currently writing up her thesis, she has spent 18 months researching how inhabitants of one village in northern Senegal experience the relationship between secular state schools and Islamic education. She tries to balance the academic theory with practical involvement with NGO The Grandmother Project, working on girls’ and women’s health and education in southern Senegal.