Charlie Rumsby is a research fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations and a Visiting Fellow at the LSE anthropology department. Her ethnographic research explores modes of identity and belonging amongst stateless ethnic Vietnamese children living on the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers in Cambodia. You can learn more about her research on her website.

The Waters of Death and Life

In collaboration with illustrator Ben Thomas I experiment with ‘comic’ descriptions of children’s stories that are particularly difficult to tell because of their morose nature; for instance, children drowning in the water. In addition, drawings help bring to life intangible elements of children’s everyday lives – fears of river ghosts, and the role their Christian faith plays in resolving these fears. To this end I have included a selection of images that represent children’s relationship with the waterways they live on, the joy it brings but also the precarity of life on the water.

Statelessness is often framed as ontological dehumanisation: a narrative of legal triumphalism, which focuses on the necessity of paperwork for meaningful access to services, whilst omitting insights on how children experience dislocation within their communities and how they create modes of belonging and feelings of home. 

Illustrations offer a powerful opportunity to see stateless populations in their humanity: they uncover the intimate lives of stateless children, and their agency and decision making – which is missing in the scholarship and political discourse on statelessness. Thus, stories such as this are of great educational value within, and outside the academy.