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Governing Refugees

Justice, Order and Legal Pluralism

By Kirsten McConnachie

Routledge – 2014 – 200 pages

Series: Law, Development and Globalization

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    May 9th 2014
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Refugee camps are imbued in the public imagination with assumptions of anarchy, danger and refugee passivity. Governing Refugees: Justice, Order and Legal Pluralism marshals empirical data and ethnographic detail to challenge such assumptions, arguing that refugee camps should be recognised as spaces where social capital can not only survive, but thrive.

This book examines themes of community governance, order maintenance and legal pluralism in the context of refugee camps on the Thailand-Burma border. The nature of a refugee situation is such that multiple actors take a role in camp management, creating a complex governance environment which has a significant impact on the lives of refugees. This situation also speaks to deeply important questions of legal and political scholarship, including the production of order beyond the state, justice as a contested site, and the influence of transnational human rights discourses on local justice practice.

The book presents valuable new research into the subject of refugee camps as well as an original critical analysis. The interdisciplinary nature of McConnachie’s assessment means Governing Refugees will appeal across the fields of law, anthropology and criminology, as well as to those whose work directly relates to Refugee Studies.


‘There is much discussion in academic life these days about the importance of interdisciplinary research. This book is the real deal. Using the Karen refugee camps on the Thai Burma Border as a focus, Kirsten McConnachie moves effortlessly from law, criminology, through to anthropology with stops along the way in refugee studies, development and human rights. The result is a beautifully written book, theoretically rigorous, clear, unpretentious and morally compelling. A brilliant piece of socio-legal scholarship.'

Kieran McEvoy, Professor of Law and Transitional Justice, Queens University Belfast

'At last, recognition of the unique community-based refugee camp management model developed on the Thailand border. McConnachie's insightful research challenges common perceptions of refugees as powerless victims and of refugee camps as dangerous places lacking normal social structures. It also shows that on this border, trust well-placed has built strong community structures with potentially crucial roles to play in refugee return, reintegration and reconciliation in Burma. Academically rigorous, the analysis nevertheless displays deep understanding of the practical challenges of humanitarian responses in politically complex situations. This book makes an important contribution to refugee assistance and camp management policy debates.'

Jack Dunford MBE, Executive Director, The Border Consortium 1984 to 2013

'Governing Refugees develops a compelling and stylish argument about how multiple forms of justice and governance intersect and overlap to regulate life in a Karen refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border. Its analysis of the interrelationships among state law, local cultural practice, religious values and international human rights and refugee law is both novel and inspiring and is set to establish Kirsten McConnachie as an outstanding figure in the field of law, justice and refugee studies.'

Hastings Donnan, Director of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, Queen’s University Belfast

‘Kirsten McConnachie's remarkable research among the Karen in Burma has found law and order where there was thought to be none, and as such is a remarkable lesson in the nature of governance. Governing Refugees clearly establishes McConnachie as one of the most important new voices in the field of law, development and globalization studies.’

Shadd Maruna, Professor of Law, Queen's University Belfast

‘Contemporary legal and political theory tells us that the refugee camp is one of the most important and representative political spaces of the present age. Now, for the first time, Kirsten McConnachie has given us a stunning empirical account of how refugees are governed’

Professor Jonathan Simon, University of California Berkeley


Chapter 1. Governing Refugees Chapter 2. The Karen In Burma: Conflict And Displacement Chapter 3. The Camp Community Chapter 4. The Governance Palimpsest: Order Maintenance In Eastern Burma Chapter 5. Sovereigns And Denizens: Camp Governance And ‘The Refugee’ Chapter 6. The Struggle For Ownership Of Justice Chapter 8. Enacting Interlegality: Human Rights And Local Justice Chapter 8. Beyond Encampment

Author Bio

Kirsten McConnachie is Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall and the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Her research continues to study self-reliance and self-governance strategies among refugees from Burma.

Name: Governing Refugees: Justice, Order and Legal Pluralism (Hardback)Routledge 
Description: By Kirsten McConnachie. Refugee camps are imbued in the public imagination with assumptions of anarchy, danger and refugee passivity. Governing Refugees: Justice, Order and Legal Pluralism marshals empirical data and ethnographic detail to challenge such assumptions, arguing...
Categories: Socio-Legal Studies - International Law & Politics, Migration & Diaspora, Politics & Development, Diaspora Studies, Development Geography, Asylum & Immigration Law, Human Rights Law & Civil Liberties, War & Conflict Studies