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Seminar Series on Global Refugee Policy

Global refugee policy is a formal statement of, and proposed course of action in response to, a ‘problem’ relating to protection, solutions or assistance for refugees or other persons of concern to the global refugee regime. It is discussed and approved within UNHCR’s governing structures, and is intended to either limit the behaviour of governments or guide UNHCR’s activities. Despite the time and resources invested in the making, implementation and evaluation of global refugee policy, and concerns about the elements and implications of particular policies, our understanding of the process that leads to these policies at the global level, and factors affecting their implementation at the local level, is surprisingly limited.

Building on discussions at the RSC’s 30th Anniversary Conference and the December 2014 Special Issue of Journal of Refugee Studies on the topic, this seminar series will examine particular aspects of the global refugee policy process to further our understanding of how global refugee policy is made, implemented and evaluated, and the extent to which a more critical understanding of this process contributes to our ability to influence outcomes.

This week Dr Marion Fresia (Professeure assistante, Institut d’ethnologie, Université de Neuchâtel) will address the topic 'Ethnographic understandings of global refugee policy: looking at policy in practice':

Ethnographic approaches of policy processes are usually interested in issues of power and control, translation and mediation, contestation and resistance, and the formal and implicit norms at stake in the formulation, implementation and outcomes of policy. They draw on micro-scale observation and widely rely on participant-observation and multi-situated fieldwork as methodological tools to inquire into social actors' actual practices and agency at different knots of the 'implementation' chain. This presentation will discuss some of the potential and challenges of mobilizing such approaches in the study of global refugee policy, at both epistemological and methodological levels. Drawing on a wider research project on the every-day work of 'asylum-makers' within UNHCR, it will first examine the added value of ethnography for analysing how policy agendas are set, formulated and made 'global' at the level of UNHCR's Executive Committee in Geneva. It will then discuss the potential of such approaches for studying the actual implementation of global refugee policy, by taking the example of the politics and practice of refugee status determination at the level of two UNHCR country offices in Ankara and Nouakchott.

About the speaker

Marion Fresia is Assistant Professor in the Institute of Ethnography, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Her research interests focus on the anthropology of development and social change; humanitarian aid and forced migration; and the anthropology of international institutions. Part of her current research examines UNHCR from the 'inside', exploring how its boundaries take shape through the daily social practices of an assemblage of experts, diplomats and NGOs constantly producing and reproducing the refugee label worldwide. Her doctorate is from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France, for which she conducted extensive fieldwork with Mauritanian refugees in Senegal (2001-2005). She subsequently worked with UNHCR as an education expert between 2005 and 2007.

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Marion Fresia External

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.

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