15 December 2021

PhD Defence: Anine Hagemann

On Monday 18 October, Anine Hagemann will be defending her PhD "Inventing Protection: The birth of the protection of civilians sites in South Sudan".

Assessment committee:

Professor Christian Bueger, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen (chair)

Dr. Leben Moro, University of Juba

Professor Michael Barnett, George Washington University


When civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, thousands of civilians fled the violence and sought protection in UN peacekeeping military bases. This led to the creation of the “protection of civilians sites” (PoC sites) in South Sudan, where around 200,000 internally displaced South Sudanese would stay sheltered for the following 7 years.
The swift UN reaction to the crisis presented a puzzle. Historically, there have been several instances where peace missions have not intervened to protect civilians – or have tried and failed. In this case, the peace mission did intervene and did so quickly. What was different this time? The longevity of the PoC sites also presented a puzzle. They were seen as a crisis measure to be immediately dismantled and yet they continued to exist for over 7 years.

This study investigates why the PoC sites were created and how they developed over time. It takes a special interest in the practices of street-level peacekeepers to understand what protection meant on the ground. It is based on a year of participant observation together with extensive interviews and document analysis. Taking a starting point in practice theory, it contributes to theorizations of change in and through practices. It also introduces the idea of “sweaty concepts” as a way of theorizing from practices.

The dissertation shows how the street level can add explanatory power to why the Mission opened its gates – it explains that gates were opened decentrally and stormed rather than guided by orders from above. The concept of willful protection captures this protection agency of actors on the ground. The dissertation argues how, by establishing the sites, giving them a new name and garnering a strong political reaction, the Mission effectively invented a new institution and a new form of protection: territorialized protection of civilians. The dissertation shows how protection in its territorialized form became static, reactive, defensive and bunkerized. While the Mission maintained a narrative of impermanence regarding the sites, it paradoxically and continuously engaged in their fortification. The dissertation also examines the everyday in the “holding facilities,” detention facilities in the sites managed by the UN, where close to 6000 people passed through. The study shows how detention practices were an integral part of protection in its territorialized form. Peacekeepers on the ground wielded great power in shaping the new detention institution, but working in what they felt to be a gray legal area and making up the rules as they went along also caused them great anxiety.

In sum, the dissertation shows how a new form of territorialized protection of civilians was invented in South Sudan and with it a series of new practices and policies, including holding as protection. Elements of this new invention have already traveled abroad to other UN missions, thereby shaping international forms and norms of protection.