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In the last decade, there has been a renewed interest in ‘self-reliance’ as a remedy for protracted refugee crises. While self-reliance has been articulated as a key policy objective, scholars have been preoccupied with a key question: what is self-reliance and what interests does such a policy ultimately serve? Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s post-structuralist thought, this paper puts forward a deconstructive approach to examine how the concept of self-reliance is discursively constructed. Through an analysis of relevant policy documents, this paper examines the role that texts play in producing and reproducing the meaning of self-reliance. I argue that self-reliance is an inherently undecidable, or malleable, concept that is embedded in a system of binary oppositions within the refugee regime. In other words, self-reliance is constructed relationally, as it is defined by what it is and what it is not with reference to key concepts such as dependency, vulnerability, resilience, and entrepreneurship. Despite this ambiguity, self-reliance has a logocentric, or hegemonic, power, which makes it susceptible to be co-opted by various policy actors to suit their interests. I examine self-reliance within the context of the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement in Turkana County, Kenya, to demonstrate the political implications of self-reliance’s logocentrism.



Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

Publication Date



RSC Working Paper Series 139

Total pages