Fishermen on Lake Kivu-1400x401

CPAID Researcher Spotlight

Dr Ryan Joseph O'Byrne

Post-doctoral Research Fellow at LSE's Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa


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 Ryan Joseph O'Byrne about his research.

Please tell us a little about yourself

I am a sociocultural anthropologist from New Zealand, where I did my undergraduate and master’s degrees, although I also hold a PhD in Social Anthropology from University College London. I got into anthropology because I have always been keen on culture, geography, history and travel. When I was five, I wanted to be an archaeologist, and left New Zealand for what we call our "Big O.E" (overseas experience) when I was 19 to learn more about myself and the world. That lasted 10 years, during which time I lived in Australia, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy, as well as throughout the UK.

I also love electronic music, especially trance, and I used to DJ for a few years back in the early 00s. And, thanks to the home-bound life of COVID-19, I have recently pulled out the old Technics I had in storage and started DJing again. 

Please tell us about your current work

I currently work on issues of public authority and resilience among South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda, and my fieldwork has been largely based in one particular location, the Palabek refugee settlement in Lamwo District. I started working there following the April 2017 attack by the South Sudanese government on the community among whom I had done my PhD fieldwork. Most of the community had fled to Uganda and resettled in Palabek. This work is based on 12 months' ethnographic fieldwork, and further publications from it are coming out in 2022.

Can you share any interesting results you’ve learned from your work?

I'm not sure it is a result, but it never ceases to amaze me the ways in which some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people, like those I work with, will struggle against adversities like repression, corruption and inadequate resources while doing everything possible to make the lives of themselves and their families better, while remaining generous and friendly. Every day is a real ‘grounding’ experience, and it really helps you realise just how insignificant your own problems are.

What do you hope the impact of your work will be?

World peace? Too much? How about actually equal rights for refugees? Nah, that’s probably too much too, considering the current international climate and, especially, with certain governments leading certain countries.

The marxist anthropologist in me can be cynical, so all I really hope is that by 'speaking truth to power', as Tim Allen [Director of the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa] might say, there is some small improvement in the real living conditions of Palabek's refugees.