Centre for Development Studies

States of Emergency: Citizenship in Times of Crisis in Sierra Leone

October 2016 - September 2018

Principle Investigator: Dr Luisa Enria

Research Team: Local Research Assistant in Freetown 

Funding Body: ESRC

Total Value of Award: £133,285.39

Overview of the project

This research project develops work on the association of security and development priorities, by exploring how a heavily militarised response to the outbreak of Ebola has influenced experiences of citizenship amongst socio-economically marginal youth in Sierra Leone. Drawing on a variety of disciplines, from medical anthropology to security studies and political sociology, this study will probe into the nature of state-society relation in times of 'crisis'. In so doing it analyses both normative definitions of citizenship created through emergency policy interventions and the everyday negotiations and contestations of citizenship by marginal urban youth living in a constant state of emergency.

The Ebola outbreak that overwhelmed West Africa between 2014-2016 came only a decade after the end of a devastating civil war in Sierra Leone. The cyclical nature of crisis has been linked to structural fragilities, including weak institutions unable to gain the trust of large populations living in poverty. This has made Sierra Leone emblematic of the increasing trend in international development policy that treats poverty reduction as a security priority aimed at mitigating threats to national and international stability. Young people living in urban slum areas have been especially affected by the increasing depiction of poverty as a security risk. First, as they were identified as potential recruits in rebel armies, and secondly as they were seen as vessels of disease during an Ebola outbreak characterised by urban contagion. Young people's recent experiences of a militarised Ebola response thus offer a fascinating entry-point into the study of how crisis creates citizens in a developing country.

While much has been written on the processes whereby security and development priorities have become intertwined, much less is known about how these dynamics impact target populations. This study will thus explore how the securitisation of poverty influences definitions, negotiations and experiences of citizenship in Sierra Leone. This means firstly understanding how the proclamation of states of emergency influences normative definitions of citizenship. Secondly, it means exploring how living under emergency shapes how citizens relate to their sovereign authority and how they negotiate their position in a fragile political community. Methodologically, the study will firstly involve collecting and analysing grey literature from a multitude of agencies involved in the Ebola response in Sierra Leone to tease out policy narratives around citizenship during the outbreak. Secondly, it will entail three months of ethnographic fieldwork amongst young residents of the Magazine Wharf slum area of Freetown, a neighbourhood particularly badly hit by the epidemic. Through interviews, life histories and participant observation, the study will explore young people's everyday interactions with state institutions and their resulting definitions, negotiations and expectations of citizenship. 

Intended outputs and impacts

•    Policy briefs   
•    Participant Workshops
•    Network of practitioners and academics
•    Academic/practitioner conference  
•    3 journal articles 

For further information about this project, please contact:

Dr Luisa Enria