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RSC Public Seminar Series, Trinity Term:

Imposing Aid: Thirty Years of Emergency Assistance to Refugees

Convenor: Dr Will Jones

Barbara Harrell-Bond's seminal book Imposing Aid was the first independent appraisal of an assistance programme mounted by international agencies in response to an emergency influx of refugees - in this case the Ugandans who spilled over the Sudanese border in the early months of 1982. Since its publication in 1986, it has been widely hailed as a key text in Anthropology and Refugee Studies, with far-reaching implications for policy and theory. In this series, we reflect on the continuing relevance of the themes raised in Imposing Aid, and its enduring influence on the shape of the discipline: the way humanitarian organisations work or do not work, the critical study of how such organisations may be paternalistic or unaccountable, the conflicts of interest and disparities of power which characterise the interactions between refugees and their ostensible helpers, and the place of refugees in the complex order of international emergency relief settings. Thirty years after the publication of Imposing Aid, these issues remain as urgent as ever.

About the seminar

What is a refugee camp? Existing analyses of refugee camps have tended to focus on logics of power and forms of governance. This talk will concentrate instead on their function as spaces of containment.  It argues that camps of containment are a specific form of encampment, of which there are three primary categories: prisoner-of-war camps, internment camps and camps for forced migrants. This genealogy sheds new light on the origin of the refugee camp, situating it not with concentration camps of the late nineteenth century but with prisoner of war camps of the late eighteenth century. This longer-term perspective on the history of the refugee camp highlights continuities and commonalities in the model, showing ‘camps of containment’ to be an evolving politico-military strategy of containment and quarantine that is related both to changing patterns of political conflict and to shifting anxieties about national security and where it is perceived to be under threat.

About the speaker

Kirsten McConnachie is a socio-legal researcher whose work focuses on governance and justice in refugee situations. She has a particular regional interest in southeast Asia and with refugees from Burma/Myanmar, having worked first with Karen refugees living in camps in Thailand and more recently with ethnic Chin refugees in Malaysia and India. She has conducted extensive field research in each of these countries. Her recent book, Governing Refugees (Routledge 2014), analyses camp governance and the administration of justice among Karen refugees in Thailand. This book was awarded the Socio-Legal Studies Association early career book prize for 2015.

Kirsten's research interests span several disciplines, including criminology, victimology, transitional justice, refugee studies and legal anthropology. She has published on issues including governance by armed groups; the history and management of refugee camps; legal pluralism and non-state justice systems; forced migration in southeast Asia; the role of victims in transitional justice; and constitutional reform. A common thread in this work is a focus on pluralistic governance and on the role of non-state actors in governance.

Kirsten joined the Warwick University School of Law in September 2015. She previously held positions at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford (Research Fellow in Refugee Studies) and the University of Edinburgh (Research Fellow, School of Law). She has degrees in law from Queen's University Belfast (PhD), University of Nottingham (LLM in the Law of Armed Conflict) and the University of Glasgow (LLB in Scots Law). She was admitted to the New York State Bar in 2005.


The podcast of this seminar is available here >>

Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture

The Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture is held in Trinity term. It is named after Professor Elizabeth Colson, a renowned anthropologist.

Annual Harrell-Bond Lecture

The Annual Harrell-Bond Lecture is named in honour of Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond, the founding Director of the Refugee Studies Centre. It is held each year in Michaelmas term.

Public Seminar Series

Each term the RSC holds a series of public seminars, held on Wednesday evenings at Queen Elizabeth House. Click here for details of forthcoming seminars.

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A celebration of the life of David Turton

Saturday, 20 July 2024, 2pm to 3pm @ The Crypt Cafe, St Peters Church, Northchurch Terrace, London N1 4DA