Disasters, tugg'd with fortune
Kings of Disaster: Dualism, Centralism and the Scapegoat King in Southern Sudan (Michigan State & Fountain) is a remarkable ethnography of people whose sense of commonality is produced by their common opposition to their kings. The book brings together an impressive body of archival sources and excellent ethnographic research, but has remained underappreciated outside a small circle of specialists. Partly this was a matter of timing. Simonse carried out his first research trip in 1981, while he was teaching at Juba University. During the next five years, Juba came under siege, becoming a key government-controlled outpost circled by rebel-held territory. Extended work outside the town became more and more difficult. By the time the book was published in 1992, Sudan had been at war for nearly a decade and the book’s subject matter seemed part of the discipline’s history. Political anthropology was giving way to the anthropology of the state and interest shifted from ‘traditional registers’ of power to the bio-politics of bodies and populations and discourses of science and health (Hansen & Stepputat, 2016, pp. 299-300).
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