Law and Famine: hunger courts and the politics of famine in South Sudan

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Activists and scholars are seeking to end famine by promoting international legal accountability for starvation. This article deepens our understanding of the relationship between the politics of famine and law by noticing the ongoing prevalence and power of legal norms and institutions during times of famine. This article reveals the widespread use of hunger courts in famine-prone South Sudan, and their role in legally enforcing social networks that provide for the most vulnerable. The article argues that hunger courts have played a key role in enforcing social networks. They have also enforced continuity of authority of the chiefs despite crisis. At the same time, the article concludes by questioning whether law is necessarily emancipatory in times of famine. The article questions whether legal norms have shifted responsibility for hunger away the political economies and conflicts that cause famine, instead placing blame and shame on the families of the most vulnerable. The article is based on analysis of country-wide survey data from 2018 and 2019, qualitative interviews from 2019 - 2022 and in-depth ethnographic observations of hunger courts in one chiefdom in South Sudan during a period of famine-level hunger in 2018.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-489
Number of pages27
JournalDevelopment and Change
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2023


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