Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Zayed University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
Negotiating Patronage: Economic Survival and Comradeship among Former Liberian Child Soldiers in Cape Town

The project is an ethnographic study of the daily lives of Liberian youth who were participants in the civil war in Liberia and who, following disarmament in 2004, migrated and settled in Cape Town, South Africa. The aim of the project is to examine the nature of their economic activities as migrant youth and their strategies of survival in a fast-changing city recently characterized as hostile to foreign migrants. I focus on their uses and imaginations of resources and relationships to do so, tracing how young Liberians cultivate ties with patrons in Cape Town to secure economic opportunity, and how they share resources among each other to mark connections of loyalty, friendship, and comradeship. Taking seriously the forces that constitute Liberian youth in Cape Town – their pasts as child soldiers, the networks they are tied into that allow them to enter the shadow economy, their alleged association with the occult – I look at the ways Liberian formulations of patron-client relationships, which gained fresh meanings for child combatants in a context of war, are recreated in a different social and economic milieu. My project takes account of the agency of narratives (particularly the crafting of categories of friend, enemy, and comrade within that crucible), structural conditions (of being at an edge of economic success even though that success is denigrated on grounds of a reliance upon occult powers), and a locality (how Liberian youth appear in the eyes of Cape Town, which speaks as much to particularity of Cape Town in the post-Apartheid era as it does to Liberian experiences of it) in which to better theorize children’s agency in situations of political and economic uncertainty. By examining patronage, I will interrogate the conditions of possibility for children’s agency and investigate how lives are lived under the threat of vulnerability.