Call for papers: Beyond Crisis: Rethinking Refugee Studies, RSC Conference, March 2017


Beyond Crisis: Rethinking Refugee Studies
Thursday 16 March – Friday 17 March 2017
Keble College Oxford

The Refugee Studies Centre will host a major international conference in March 2017, thirty-five years after the RSC was founded. Its purpose will be to reflect on the role that Refugee Studies can play in the world. In the context of profound changes in the nature of forced displacement, this conference will assess what kinds of knowledge, evidence, and concepts are needed to understand and respond to contemporary challenges.

Over the past year, the so-called European refugee crisis has created unprecedented public interest in forced displacement, as well as a demand for research. Yet despite a series of policy-oriented conferences, there have been few spaces in which to reflect on the state of Refugee Studies and to explore the extent to which we have the academic tools necessary to think about and respond to a changing world.

Against this backdrop, this conference seeks to reinvigorate scholarly debate on ways in which we can conceive of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. By bringing together a range of reflective thinkers and their work, alongside policy-makers and practitioners, our hope is to develop a research agenda and scholarly community that can engage meaningfully with the long-term challenges of forced displacement.

We seek papers on any aspect of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, from any disciplinary perspective, which can serve to stimulate engaging debate. The conference will aim to take the core concepts and ideas of Refugee Studies and critically reassess through inter-disciplinary dialogue. Some of the cutting-edge themes that papers might consider include:

Vulnerability and Capacity
There is a growing focus on vulnerability in the context of protecting ‘vulnerable migrants’ who fall outside the refugee framework. Yet the concept of ‘vulnerability’ is rarely critically interrogated. It is often used as though synonymous with gender, age and disability. Distinctions between situational or embodied vulnerability are rarely considered. Furthermore, the capacities of forced migrants – and their own agency to support themselves and their communities – are too rarely considered.

Commitment and Compliance
There is increasing non-compliance with basic refugee rights norms around the world. But what explains states’ commitment and compliance with refugee norms? When and why do governments adhere to international legal obligations towards refugees or choose to violate them. How can we explain the apparent paradox of some non-signatory states to the 1951 Convention being among the most generous host countries around the world?

Transnationalism and Localisation
The existing refugee paradigm is built largely on an assumption of state-centrism. Despite the growing emergence of non-state actors including business, crisis-affected communities, and local and municipal actors, there is still an insistence on seeing assistance, protection and solutions through a predominantly state-centric lens. How can the boundaries of our thinking and our concepts change when we recognise globalisation, mobility, and transnationalism to be integral parts of contemporary forced displacement? How do they reconfigure our assumptions about space and place, and structure and agency?

Autonomy and Assistance
Humanitarian assistance has become one of the central components of the refugee regime, both in acute and protracted situations. Yet both historically and now, ‘top-down’ assistance has been widely critiqued as adding to rather than reducing suffering. In its place, ideas relating to self reliance, self protection, participatory approaches, and human-centred design have tried to re emphasise the importance of autonomy as an aspiration of the refugee regime – whether economic, social, or political. But how can we think about this changing balance and place it in critical perspective?

Welcome and Deterrence
Across Europe and around the world, refugee-receiving countries have populations that are pushing for greater exclusion but also pockets of civil society mobilisation striving to create greater inclusion for refugees. Understanding the dynamics behind these socio-political movements towards inclusion and exclusion holds the key to opening up protection spaces for displaced populations, and yet they have generally been poorly understood in academia.

We are open to a variety of panel formats, including traditional academic paper panels, debates, and roundtables. We will also have an exhibition space, and welcome contributions including photography, art, and design. Please submit proposals for individual presentations or full panels to by 5pm on 15 November 2016.

The conference has capacity for up to 200 participants and registration will open soon.

Details at: