Ethnographic approaches of policy processes are usually interested in issues of power and control, translation and mediation, contestation and resistance, and the formal and implicit norms at stake in the formulation, implementation and outcomes of policy. They draw on micro-scale observation and widely rely on participant-observation and multi-situated fieldwork as methodological tools to inquire into social actors' actual practices and agency at different knots of the 'implementation' chain. This presentation will discuss some of the potential and challenges of mobilizing such approaches in the study of global refugee policy, at both epistemological and methodological levels. Drawing on a wider research project on the every-day work of 'asylum-makers' within UNHCR, it will first examine the added value of ethnography for analysing how policy agendas are set, formulated and made 'global' at the level of UNHCR's Executive Committee in Geneva. It will then discuss the potential of such approaches for studying the actual implementation of global refugee policy, by taking the example of the politics and practice of refugee status determination at the level of two UNHCR country offices in Ankara and Nouakchott.
Marion Fresia is Assistant Professor in the Institute of Ethnography, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Her research interests focus on the anthropology of development and social change; humanitarian aid and forced migration; and the anthropology of international institutions. Part of her current research examines UNHCR from the 'inside', exploring how its boundaries take shape through the daily social practices of an assemblage of experts, diplomats and NGOs constantly producing and reproducing the refugee label worldwide.
For more information please visit the Refugee Studies Centre website.