This article investigates the deployment of dependency as a keyword in discussions of food security in South Sudan, on the basis of interviews and observations carried out in December 2012. Our initial intent was to estimate challenges to rural food security as the country emerged from decades of violent conflict. However, the notion of a “culture of dependency” arose persistently from our data, alongside more conventional information about food. We contextualize this discursive deployment of dependency within ongoing scholarly debates about the existence of “dependency syndromes” in humanitarian relief operations in central Africa and within academic discussions of the power of buzzwords and keywords in development discourse, with particular reference to Swidler and Watkins's 2009 article “‘Teach a Man to Fish’: The Doctrine of Sustainability and Its Effects on Three Strata of Malawian Society.” We argue that dependency in the South Sudanese context incorporates four facets: the near-total economic dependency of South Sudan on oil revenues; the social-structural dependency of rural communities on international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) for basic foodstuffs; a so-called “culture of dependency” that our informants claimed had taken root in rural areas, so that local people had lost old habits of autonomy and self-reliance; and the reliance of INGOs on the populations they serve. We do not empirically validate these “dependencies” but treat them as discursive constructs with potentially major implications for rural development.
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