Public Authority, Resilience and Mobility

South Sudanese in Palabek Refugee Settlement, Uganda

Hosted by LSE’s Centre for Public Authority and International Development

Researcher: Dr Ryan O'Byrne

How do forms of governance shape the dimensions and dynamics of migration?

Dr Ryan O'Byrne


This research investigated the multi-dimensional dynamics of mobility among South Sudanese in Uganda through twelve months ethnographic fieldwork primarily based in Palabek Refugee Settlement, Lamwo District.

The project first investigated diverse understandings, experiences and practices of migration of differing scales and longevity, and how the dynamics of displacement and return link to diverse manifestations and negotiations of public authority. Secondly, the research investigated South Sudanese refugees’ vernacular understandings of and practices around resilience, and especially how these might contradict or contest the normative agendas pushed forward as part of standard humanitarian practices.

Both strands of research were particularly concerned with issues surrounding 1) individual, communal and cultural resilience; 2) the experiences, meanings and practices involved in the movement of people, ideas and things; and 3) how diverse forms of public authority are constituted and maintained throughout, across and beyond these movements. 

Research questions

  • What are the critical conditions or common patterns and features of refugees’ migrations? How are these experienced and understood by refugees themselves?
  • How do national and international and programmes aimed at refugees become entangled with experiences on the ground?
  • How do refugees negotiate, experience and understand their own resiliencies? How do their experiences of external interventions contribute or detract from these?
  • How do cultural beliefs and practices coincide with the resilience of refugees? How do these impact on relations with host communities or external organisations?
  • How do forms of governance shape the dimensions and dynamics of migration?
  • What are locally meaningful forms of public authority? Which other actors are these connected to, and how?
  • How do local forms of public authority shape governance or conflict? How are these experienced and understood by refugees and host community members?



Ryan Joseph O’Byrne

Dr Ryan O’Byrne researches the migration experiences of South Sudanese in Uganda. He holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from University College London based on ethnographic fieldwork in South Sudan.

Research interests: migration, displacement, resilience, public authority
Region: Uganda, South Sudan



Photo:  Bidibidi reception centre in Uganda’s Yumbe district. Credit: Denis Onyodi/Uganda Red Cross-Climate Centre. Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.