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Who Knows Tomorrow?

Uncertainty in North-Eastern Sudan

Sandra Calkins

282 pages, 11 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-015-5 $120.00/£85.00 Hb Published (February 2016)

eISBN 978-1-78533-016-2 eBook

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“"The book is a rich ethnographic and theoretical contribution to the anthropology not only of uncertainty but of the future, which is after all where much of our uncertainty lies.  It substantiates the point that ‘culture’ and ‘institutions’ are not completed and stabilized products of the past but are ongoing accomplishments of the present, oriented to circumstances of imperfect knowledge, contested interests and perspectives, and open horizons." · Anthropology Review Database

“This book is a sophisticated, compelling, and innovative piece of work… The analysis of forms in dealing with uncertainty is a major contribution… In exploring how people in Sudan mobilize and reflect upon these forms, [Calkins] creates a novel kind of ethnography… Fluent, intriguing, and intelligent.” · Susan Reynolds Whyte, Department of Anthropology, Copenhagen University

“Calkins has elegantly written an unconventional ethnography that presents new perspectives on issues of marginalization, poverty and hunger. This is a must read for everyone concerned with Sudan and the fundamental uncertainty of human existence.” · Musa Adam Abdul-Jalil, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, University of Khartoum


Although uncertainty is intertwined with all human activity, plans, and aspirations, it is experienced differently: at times it is obsessed over and at times it is ignored. This ethnography shows how Rashaida in north-eastern Sudan deal with unknowns from day-to-day unpredictability to life-threatening dangers. It argues that the amplification of uncertainty in some cases and its extenuation in others can be better understood by focusing on forms that can either hold the world together or invite doubt. Uncertainty, then, need not be seen solely as a debilitating problem, but also as an opportunity to create other futures.

Sandra Calkins is a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and a member of the Law, Organization, Science, and Technology group at the University of Halle. She is co-editor of Disrupting Territories. Land, Commodification and Conflict (James Currey, 2014) and Emerging Orders in the Sudans (Langaa, 2015). In 2016, she won the the young scholars award of the African Studies Association in Germany (VAD).

Subject: General Anthropology Development Studies
Area: Africa


List of Illustrations
Notes on Transliteration
List of Abbreviations and Glossary

Introduction: Taming Unknowns in Sudan

Chapter 1. Towards an Anthropology of Uncertainty
Chapter 2. Contesting Forms: Translating Poverty and Uncertainty
Chapter 3. Insisting on Forms: Bracketing Uncertainties in Gold Mining
Chapter 4. Standardizing Forms: Uncertain Food Supplies
Chapter 5. Establishing Urgent Forms: Uncertainties of Ill Health

Conclusion: Uncertainty and Forms: Asking New Questions


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