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In a new article for Third World Quarterly, Dr Georgia Cole examines why we need to explore ‘the physicality’ of the documents produced and circulated by organisations such as UNHCR, not just the statements made within them. She outlines how the issuance of certain documents within the refugee regime suppresses within a ‘black box’ the supporting and competing narratives that resulted in their genesis. Relatedly, she considers why particular announcements are capable of catalysing responses that outlive their authors’ finite intentions.

Tracing the genealogy of these documents, she thus argues, is critical for explaining the persistent and yet unpredictable influence of ideas, interests and pressures on institutional conduct, even long after their proponents have changed tack.

By illustrating why greater attention should be paid to the ways that material objects can come to shape organisational behaviour, in this case legal texts, the article complements existing theoretical frameworks used to explain UNHCR’s conduct. This helps explain how, when and why non-legally binding declarations nonetheless came to bind UNHCR’s actions as it attempted to cancel the status of Eritrean refugees in 2002.

The article 'How friends become foes: exploring the role of documents in shaping UNHCR’s behaviour' is available to subscribers here >>

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