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This paper discusses a general problem that arises whenever one attempts to formalise and institutionalise a relatively new field of academic enquiry, such as forced migration, with the aim of having an impact on policy: namely, how to define the subject matter of the field. It argues that the scientific study of forced migration is, paradoxically, less likely to be ‘relevant’ to policy and practice, the more slavishly it follows policy related categories in defining its subject matter. This paper suggests that the main obstacle to what Cernea calls the ‘bridging of the research divide’ (1996) between these different populations of forced migrants is the over-reliance of refugee studies scholars on ad hoc distinctions which have important political and policy implications but which result in categories which are ill-suited both to comparison, and to the observation, description and analysis of empirical data.

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Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

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