Forcing the Issue: Migration Crises and the Uneasy Dialogue between Refugee Research and Policy Nicholas Van Hear


Refugee studies are often said to be a product of the policy world, shaped by global power relations and in particular by the interests of the global north. This article attempts to refine this view by exploring the relationship between refugees and forced migration as ‘real world’ phenomena and refugee or forced migration studies as a field of enquiry. The article takes two upheavals—the collapse of communist regimes in 1989–1991 and the financial and economic crisis of 2008–2011—to mark out or ‘bookend’ a period of about two decades during which we may track migration crises and upheavals of varying magnitudes and depth, and relate these developments to the unfolding of refugee or forced migration studies. Taking issue with some commentators’ views about the relationship between ‘real world’ forced migration and the development of forced migration studies as an analytical field, the article addresses the relations among three types of thinking: social science understandings of refugees and forced migration; thinking about refugees and forced migration in the world of policy and practice; and popular or everyday thinking about refugees. Concepts travel among these spheres of thinking and are shaped and transformed en route. Subject to power relations like other forms of knowledge, social science research on forced migration may influence both popular and governmental thinking as much as policy categories shape forced migration research.

Van Hear, N. (2012) ‘Forcing the Issue: Migration Crises and the Uneasy Dialogue between Refugee Research and Policy’, Journal of Refugee Studies, 25(1): 2-24