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Abstract

The most diverse development, relief and military actors who operate among the Murle people of South Sudan, actually display a common heritage of colonial categories about the indigenous population. The latter is seen in ‘tribal’ terms, as a pre-modern political life embedded within the institutions of the state. At the same time, increasingly transnationalized forms of governance that extend from a refugee camp in Kenya to the resettlement of asylum seekers in Melbourne, call forth the reformulation of hegemonic representations of the political. Universalist imaginations about peace and development are now superposed to national and local ones, while war and (forced) migration are seen as a suspension of political life. These representations are challenged through a historical perspective on the mobility of the Murle and on conflict in Sudan, which reveal the political strategies of non-state actors. Yet, they legitimize humanitarian practices that paradoxically may range from aid withholding to the support of a violent regime. On deeper theoretical grounds, this study endorses a large body of literature on the productivity of war, as inspired by the reflections of Michel Foucaul. At the same time, however, it questions a hasty landing on recent scholarship that simply extends Agamben’s ideas on sovereignty to non-state actors. While social life in South Sudan is shaped in situations of subjugation and impunity, this universalization of sovereign power reflects yet another adjustment of statist representations to the current globalization of politics.

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