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Rather than directly entering a dialogue with the Lund authors’ paper, ‘The case for Interdisciplinary Crisis Studies’, I use their paper to engage with and reflect on the concept of crisis in my own field of study, refugees. The movement of refugees – exodus, displacement, arrival, settlement – is inescapably and almost without exception described as a ‘crisis’ in the popular imagination and in policy discourse – the 2015 European ‘refugee crisis’, the Syrian ‘refugee crisis’, the Rohingya ‘refugee crisis’ of 2016, and so on. The crisis epithet is inseparable from the phenomenon of the refugee. Indeed, refugee crises are an architype of the conditions the Lund authors explore in their paper. Refugee crises display many of the characteristics of temporality, spatiality and scale they highlight. Refugee crises also display some of the other paradoxical and contradictory constituents they identify: for example, the mistaken dehistoricisation of seemingly specific crisis events – the Rohingya ‘crisis’ of 2016 which, although a rapid onset and large displacement of refugees, has to be seen in the context of an episodic 40-year exodus. In addition, there are refugee crises which morph, more often than not, into situations of protracted displacement – we are now approaching a decade-long Syrian ‘crisis’, yet the crisis epithet remains in official documents. To the extent that the concept of refugee displacement as a ‘crisis’ has apparently become normalised, my response asks two questions. How and why have refugee crises become normalised? And what does the recent development turn in refugee policy tell us about alternatives to the crisis conception? With refugees as the variable, the paper offers a ‘case study’ of how a crisis is conceived and becomes institutionalised.

Original publication




Journal article


Bristol University Press

Publication Date



12 (3-4)


487 - 497