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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Mr Robert L. McKenzie

BA in Economics (Michigan State University), MA in Security Studies and Graduate Certificate in Arab Studies (Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University)


Robert McKenzie
Department of Anthropology and Sociology

PhD Student

Mr Robert L. McKenzie
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Internal Supervisors


I am particularly interested in the social and cultural dimensions of poverty and migration, alternative understandings of development and foreign aid (through the eyes and voices of recipients), and community based development.

My PhD studies are the culmination of more than ten years of experience relating to the Middle East, dating back to 1996 when I backpacked throughout the Arab Gulf during the winter break of my third year of undergraduate studies. Since then I have returned to the region for work, study, and leisure.

PhD Research

Based on twenty months of ethnographic research, my dissertation explores the lives of sub-Saharan refugees in Cairo, Egypt—one of the world’s largest urban centers for refugees. Through the narratives of refugees, my work outlines and critically examines the interconnectedness of migration due to war and extreme poverty, the ‘refugee business’ of Cairo, loss and suffering in exile, and it sheds light on the social world of urban refugees.

The core chapter of my PhD dissertation—titled The Disease of Traveling: African Migration to Cairo and Beyond—challenges preconceived assumptions about refugees, and raises important questions about the distinction between the categories of refugee and migrant. Through an ethnographic lens that examines refugeeness in an urban context, this chapter explores the relationship between war, poverty, and migration, while highlighting the role of globalization in the movements of peoples (whether they be refugees or migrants).

PhD Funding:
My PhD work is supported through a UK Universities’ Overseas Research Student Award, the University of London Central Research Fund Award, the School of Oriental and African Studies Additional Fieldwork Award, and the School of Oriental and African Studies Language Acquisition Fund for research.

PhD Conferences

Various aspects of the core chapter of my dissertation, titled The Disease of Traveling: African Migration to Cairo and Beyond, have been presented at the following conferences/seminars:

  • University College London, Two-day Seminar with Rosi Braidotti: 'Not Of This Place', Migration and its Memory, 8-9 November 2007
  • University of London, Centre of African Studies, Africa Seminar, 21 February 2008
  • Boston University, Sixteenth Annual Graduate Research Conference in African Studies, “Transcending Boundaries, Bridging the Continent,” 14-15 March 2008


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Prior to my PhD studies, I worked as analyst for ca. four years at two global consultancies in Washington, DC on a range of projects examining macroeconomic and socio-economic issues, geopolitics, and regional security in the Middle East and North Africa.

Available for
Regional Expertise
Country Expertise