Anthropological Analysis

In analyzing our various news sources, we wanted to determine:
  • Whose voices are highlighted in the media?
  • Which themes does the media foreground and why?

By comparing and contrasting the sources from our news analyses with  Alex de Waal’s publications, we have come to several conclusions.

Lost Boys vs. Refugees

The media frames Sudanese refugees and Lost Boys in radically different ways.  The Lost Boys are a very distinct category of refugee children, while Sudanese refugees are a much broader group of people.  This age difference becomes very important because it influences the ways in which the media chooses to portray these two groups.  At a young age, the Lost Boys have overcome immense hardships and their new lives in America are full of promise.  Adult refugees, on the other hand, highlight political and moral issues, and the media treats this group differently as a result.

When the Sudanese refugees first arrived in America, the media featured them in a very positive light in order to showcase America’s goodwill and hospitality.  However, by the mid-2000s the worldwide images of Sudan became increasingly more negative and the media adopted a different attitude towards refugees.  Currently, instead of focusing on refugee success stories, news articles highlight refugees who are involved in civil disobedience and violence, such as articles that discussed Sudanese refugees and street gangs.  As a result, there is very little positive news coverage on refugees and this trend extends to local, national, and international news sources.

Differing senses of place and belonging also play an important role in determining media portrayal.  Many Lost Boys permanently relocate to the United States.  A significant number of Lost Boys are adopted by or fostered into American families, and they are incorporated into American communities as a result.  Finally, many of the Lost Boys have come to recognize America as their home.  Refugees are typically viewed as outsiders who maintain strong links to their home countries.

Comments from a USA Today article, "Sudan refugees question whether to return home" (July 2011).

There are also a number of economic factors that influence attitudes towards Lost Boys and Sudanese refugees.  The comments posted on many of the articles we read indicate a prevailing belief that adult refugees are an economic drain.  Many people suggested that these refugees will not look for employment, but will simply live off of the American people instead.  However, we found no negative comments regarding the Lost Boys, and we attributed this to the Lost Boys’ youth and potential.  The Lost Boys were relatively young when they arrived in the United States and because of this, many of them had the advantage of a secondary education. As a result, the Lost Boys had the opportunity to pursue jobs or higher education and were thus able to contribute to the American economy.

Alex de Waal vs. News Sources

Alex de Waal gives us a perspective that local, national, and international news sources do not. His anthropological background incorporates local, political, and global views of humanitarian aid, three areas that are seldom examined in one context. His views on resettlement and aid contrast sharply with the glowing picture that news sources paint for their readers. de Waal would prefer that refugees be kept as close to their home countries as possible, but where that option is not available, America might be an alternative. However, in this new setting, refugees should be given more support and resources, a view that news sources critical of refugees do not address.

Top 20 Recipients of International Humanitarian Aid (2000-2009)

Alex de Waal is against “humanitarian aid that can prolong and disempower people.” According to the chart above, Sudan received nearly $3 billion more in international aid than Iraq from 2000-2009, an incredible number for a conflict that has received purportedly less media coverage in the United States. He believes that external aid must support internal aid and policies and facilitate internal negotiations, rather than simply sending food and troops into a region. He states that material aid can actually stratify refugee camps. Alex de Waal’s anthropological background has certainly influenced his beliefs and opinions, as illustrated by his assertion that “an anthropological sensibility and a perspective that begins with local perspectives, informs my critique of international policies and practices, including aid.” As both an academic and an activist, de Waal seeks to “help affected people mobilize themselves, rather than the ‘designer activism’ of Hollywood which seeks attention.”

We see the real stories of Lost Boys and refugees only in alternative media and anthropological accounts. The conflict in Sudan that has ravaged the land and the refugees’ lives is more than just displacement. It is a story of violence, warfare, and politics, a legacy informed by colonialism and the antagonizing effect that external aid can have.