On Wednesday afternoon, Amal Hassan Fadlalla led a discussion on her new book “Branding Humanity: Competing Narratives of Rights, Violence, and Global Citizenship.” The event was organized by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender as a part of their New Works, New Questions series. The series highlights recent publications by University faculty members through panel discussions.
Fadlalla is an associate professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and Afroamerican and African Studies. She is also the author of “Embodying Honor: Fertility, Foreignness, and Regeneration in Eastern Sudan,” which was published in 2007.
In her most recent book, Fadlalla analyzed her ethnographic findings on Sudanese identity. She focused on how the different events of violence, wars and genocide have been framed by humanitarian organizations, celebrities and the media — giving many people an oversimplified opinion of a very complex situation.
Fadlalla emphasized the intricacies of different identities and ethnicities in Sudan and how the problems that have arisen as a result cannot be easily addressed.
“The book treats Sudan as an important site,” Fadlalla said. “Sudan, like many nations of this world, is a diverse country, but this diversity has been a curse rather than a positive attribute that can be mobilized to build a viable nation-state.”
During the event, Fadlalla began by explaining the elaborate history of Sudan which gave rise to many of the present-day issues surrounding identity the Sudanese face.
“Since the country’s independence from Britain in 1956, the modern nation-state in the Sudan has failed to capitalize on this diversity and frame it as a good thing for building an inclusive national framework,” Fadlalla said. “Efforts for nation building in Sudan have consistently failed to bridge gender, race, class, and ethnic boundaries,” Fadlalla said.
Fadlalla cites both the split of Sudan into two nations — Sudan and Southern Sudan — and the Darfur conflict as critical problems in Sudan that have arisen due a lack of diversity and inclusive citizenship. The problem of ambiguous identity was amplified by the fact that these events catalyzed diasporas of Sudanese people.
Fadlalla said all of these issues perplexed her, ultimately inspiring her to write her book.
“This history of national conflict, from mutation and dispersal, made me think about how Sudan ethnic conflicts have been represented outside the country,” Fadlalla said.
In her book, Fadlalla analyzes the question by interviewing Sudanese immigrants in the United States, as well as interviewing Sudanese activists in the Sudan. During her research, Fadlalla found that many humanitarian organizations focus on the extreme details of situations in the Sudan and oversimplify them in ways that polarize the Sudanese and unfairly represent their diversity and ideologies.
“In my discussion of identity politics in the book, I show how transnational alliances, especially those focusing on human rights and humanitarianism, mobilize the language of ethnic suffering and gender-based violence to raise awareness about Sudanese conflicts in very simplistic terms,” Fadlalla said.
Additionally, Fadlalla said celebrities such as George Clooney, who became the face of the United States’ effort to help Sudan, can further polarize and sensationalize the issues in the media and obscure the diversity and complexity of the issues.
LSA sophomore Rachel Paroff is a student in one of Fadalla’s classes. In an interview with The Daily after the event, Paroff said she was most interested with Fadalla’s discussion on the impact of celebrity-sponsored humanitarian causes.
“You want to praise people for caring about issues like this, but it’s not something that they studied,” Paroff said. “It’s not like they’re asking the people (who the issues are) affecting.”
A panel of fellow faculty members, including Sandra Gunning, professor of English, Women’s Studies, Afroamerican and African Studies and American Culture, and Victor Mendoza, associate professor of English, Women’s Studies and Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies,joined the discussion. They had all read Fadalla’s book, and during the event they gave their own opinions on it.
Gunning expressed her appreciation for the book.
“I was impressed,” Gunning said. “I feel the book is insightful, rigorous, knee-deep, but also meditative.”