Timm Sureau

Timm Sureau

Timm Sureau is a postdoctoral researcher at the Law and Anthropology Department of the Max-Planck-Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. Timm Sureau has been doing research since 2006, first in Sudan, then in South Sudan, and now in Germany. His first research focused on political narratives of marginalization in northern Sudan, highlighting the dissonance between the media discourse, personal and family experiences. For his PhD, he examined state formation processes in South Sudan from an anthropological viewpoint, allowing him to enquire into the mechanisms of legitimation and negotiation in state formation. The low degree of institutionalization with its low barriers of access during the emergence of South Sudanese statehood allowed him to analyze the scope and influence of manifold individual and collective actors. More recently, he concentrates on the digital processes by which state stability and legitimation is supported, and how knowledge, ‘truth’ and evidence are shaped through the control of information flow.

He received his magister’s degree in Social Anthropology, Human Geography and Computer Science from the Free University of Berlin in 2010, and defended his dissertation in 2017 at the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg. He then coordinated the International Max Planck Research School on Retaliation, Mediation and Punishment from 2017-2019, and in 2019, he joined the SFB 1171 Affective Societies in the project “Sentiments of Bureaucracies: Affective Dynamics in the Digital Transformation of German Immigration Management”. Therein he focusses on the digitalization and its multiple consequences of the German migration management.

Current position
Postdoctoral Researcher
University affiliation
Max-Planck-Institute for Social Anthropology and University of Halle


An Ethnography of Programming: Migration management and the digitalization of legal-bureaucratic processes in Germany

In the context of the research project “Sentiments of Bureaucracies: Affective Dynamics in the Digital Transformation of German Immigration Management”, I will ethnographically trace how German bureaucracy for managing migration is digitizing their administration. We understand administrative programs similar to infrastructure, which undergoes a process of black boxing, and can best be analyzed while breaking and while being constructed or programmed. And this process of infrastructuring is happening right now. It is thus a unique moment to look at the intricacies at the crossroads of efficient on the one side, and legal duties of bureaucracies on the other. Germany’s agency for the management of migration is additionally under public scrutiny while dealing with the apparently crucial questions of identity, that is the question who is in and who is out.

In the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), for example, they are currently not only developing new applications and system extensions, but also use new forms of work organisation such as methods of agile software development in which IT developers and bureaucrats work closely together. The central question is thus how bureaucratic sentiments are developed and transformed through new work contexts and techniques, how bureaucratic sentiments are inscribed in the developed technologies and disseminated within the agency.



  • Lamoureaux, Siri and Timm Sureau (2018) "Knowledge and legitimacy: The fragility of digital mobilization in Sudan." in Journal of Eastern African Studies 0 (0): 1–19. → https://doi.org/10.1080/17531055.2018.1547249
  • Seidel, Katrin, and Timm Sureau, eds. (2015) "Emerging South Sudan: negotiating statehood (special issue)." in Journal of Eastern African Studies 9 (4)
  • Seidel, Katrin, and Timm Sureau (2015) "Introduction: peace and constitution making in emerging South Sudan on and beyond the negotiation tables." in Journal of Eastern African Studies 9 (4):612-33
  • Sureau, Timm (2015) "Confusing DDR: how DDR shifted its face." in Emerging orders in the Sudan , edited by Enrico Ille, Sandra Calkins and Richard Rottenburg, 273-298. Bamenda and Buea: Langaa
  • Sureau, Timm (2013) "New forms of exclusion in Torit: contestation over urban land." in Forging Two Nations: Insights on Sudan and South Sudan , edited by Elke Grawert, 143-159. Addis Ababa: OSSREA