Belonging with the Lost Boys: the mobilization of audiences and volunteers at a refugee community center in Phoenix, Arizona
In 2001, a refugee group of unaccompanied minors known as the Lost Boys of Sudan began arriving in the United States. Their early years were met with extensive media coverage and scores of well-meaning volunteers in scattered resettlement locations across the country. Their story was told in television news reports, documentary films, and published memoirs. Updates regularly appeared in newsprint media. Scholars have criticized public depictions of refugees as frequently de-politicized, devoid of historical context, and often depicting voiceless masses of humanity rather than individuals with skills and histories (Malkki 1996, Harrell-Bond and Voutira 2007). These representations matter because they are both shaped by and shape what is possible in public discourse and everyday relations. This dissertation research creates an intersection where public representation and everyday practices meet. Through participant observation as a volunteer at a refugee community center in Phoenix, Arizona, this research explores the emotions, social roles and relations that underpin community formation, and investigates the narratives, representations, and performances that local Lost Boys and their publics engage in. I take the assertion that "refugee issues are one privileged site for the study of humanitarian interventions through which 'the international community' constitutes itself " (Malkki 1996: 378) and consider formation of local 'communities of feeling' (Riches and Dawson 1996) in order to offer a critique of humanitarianism as mobilized and enacted around the Lost Boys.