Theses Doctoral

Future Returns: Crisis and Aspiration Among Sudanese Migrant Workers in Lebanon

Reumert, Anna

This dissertation is composed of conversations with Sudanese male and female migrants in Lebanon and with returnees and their families in Sudan about their migratory lives and labor. The migrants convey an intergenerational experience of increased precarity and an idea of a future that has become increasingly out of reach. Informed by this multi-sited fieldwork, the dissertation examines the relationship between migrants’ life-making, through friendship, kinship, political alliances and desires of living, and the material demands of livelihood that keep migrants bound to their families and political demands back home.

In Lebanon, migrant workers are not allowed to marry, have children, or to organize politically. And yet, generations of Sudanese migrant workers have built communities of kin, organized with other groups for rights and recognition – both in Sudan and transnationally – and formed mutual aid economies through which they have survived crises, wars, structural violence and racism. This apparent split between legal and socioeconomic belonging articulates through Sudanese migrants’ ambiguous political status as workers without labor rights in Lebanon, and as expat-citizens who come from marginalized subsistence farming communities in Sudan.

I show how a tension between these subject positions manifested during Lebanon’s economic collapse in 2019-20, when migrants organized a mass movement calling for their citizen “right of return”. Following in the footsteps of migrants who returned from Lebanon to Sudan in 2020, in the midst of political and economic transformations in both countries, I argue that their return interrupted the narrative of migration as a male becoming and a journey forward, and broke expectations of what migration could provide; even as new relations emerged amid this crisis.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Abu El-Haj, Nadia L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 31, 2023