With the CPAID team spanning the globe, our spotlight series celebrates the researchers who make our work unique, seeking to understand a little more about their research, motivations, and backstory.
In this CPAID spotlight, we speak to CPAID Investigator Dr Naomi Pendle about her research.
Please tell us a little about yourself
When I was in my early 20s (and when I had no uncertain about what it was best to do), I trained as a teacher and lawyer, as well as doing more academic postgraduate studies. I then travelled to South Sudan in 2009 to teach in a rural school with other teachers who were returning from Kakuma Refugee Camp (Kenya). I started researching for my PhD while I was teaching. Over the following six years I lived in a handful of villages in South Sudan, as well as spending a few months in Juba. I returned to England when my son, Jonathan Nhial, was born in 2015 and I am grateful that I have been able to continue to research ever since.
Some of my favourite things to do include walking in hills near our house in Bath, drinking sweet tea under trees in South Sudan, collecting pebbles on beaches and eating raspberries straight from the bushes on our allotment.
Please tell us about your current work
My work focuses on governance in times of conflict and famine and primarily uses ethnographic, archival, oral history and qualitative methods in South Sudan. My current research explores the everyday use of law during periods of famine and conflict, including how law is used to shape dignity, equity, and patterns of violence.
With a great team from South Sudan, Uganda, and the UK, we have also just started a new project on humanitarian protection. This project critically explores humanitarian protection norms as they are interacting with everyday struggles and social contestations in South Sudan. The research also explores how people not only seek physical protection in times of conflict, but also moral and spiritual safety.
Can you share any interesting results you have learned from your work?
In a recent book project, I explored the question of why people invest time and money in peace agreements when they consistently do not end violent conflict. The research built on a decade of ethnographic and historic research in South Sudan. Findings highlighted that peace agreements are often used to created conflicts, uncertainty, and authoritarian rule, as well as occasionally creating opportunities to push back against violent regimes. The book also highlighted the significance of divine authorities in peace and power in South Sudan and calls us to pay attention to the ritual meanings of everyday practice around peace agreements.
What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
Many South Sudanese are struggling against structural inequities and predatory (or misinformed) regimes. International humanitarians, activists and scholars who try to help, often become frustrated with the realities of the situation and in their dissonance can blame South Sudanese people and undermine their dignity. The best way for this to be challenged, will ultimately be when South Sudanese scholarship dominates debates about South Sudan and wider themes including famine, law, conflict, and humanitarian protection.
Do you have a memorable travelling story?
Some of my fondest memories include long walks through villages in South Sudan in the wet season. I would wear wellies for the mud, carry an umbrella as a parasol against the sun and wear a skirt to try to comply with local gendered expectations. I also wore boxer shorts (the only shorts available in Ler market at the time) under my skirt so that I could ride my motorbike with some modesty. People often laughed, but that was always a good way to start a conversation. Plus, with birds, storm clouds and endless water, it was incredibly beautiful.