In the course of writing an intimate biography of a Somali forced migrant, Professor Steinberg has explored some of the more important decisions his subject has made over the course of his life. Among them are decisions about public matters: how to position himself in the politics of the Somali diaspora; whether to take a public stand over xenophobia in South Africa; how to understand his place as a refugee in American society. In each case, Professor Steinberg finds that the public position he adopts is tied inextricably to his feelings about a woman he loves. In this talk, Professor Steinberg examines connections between the very personal and the very public in the context of forced migration. His paper is an explorative piece, its conclusions tentative and suggestive.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Jonny Steinberg is Associate Professor in African Criminology, African Studies Centre and Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. He joined the African Studies Centre in October 2011. His time is divided between African Studies and the Centre for Criminology. For the African Studies MSc he convenes the second term of the Core Course on Themes in African History and Social Sciences, and offers an option called 'Violence and Civilisation', available both to African Studies and Criminology MSc students.
Much of his work explores South African people and institutions in the wake of the transition to democracy. The institutions he has written about are the police, the prison, the farm and the clinic. The common thread between these projects has been an investigation into how political transition has changed the filigrees of unwritten rules through which individuals understand their lives and relate to others. He has also, of late, worked beyond South Africa, on Liberia’s recent civil war, and some of the questions it has raised about migration, exile and transitional justice.
His latest book, A Man of Good Hope, to be published in January 2015, records the life history of a Somali man who fled Mogadishu as a child in 1991, grew up itinerant and unsettled in various east African countries, and finally made his way down Africa's eastern seaboard to South Africa when he was in his early 20s. His story is a frame for exploring a range of African questions, from state collapse in Somalia, to the relationship between formal state institutions and undocumented people, to xenophobia in South Africa.