Organizing refugee camps: 'respected space' and 'listening posts'

15 Jan 2018

We examine an organizational form that has received little attention despite its social significance – the refugee camp. From an in-depth case study of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya we explain how these organizations maintain social stability even though refugees live for decades in them and are deprived of the freedom to move or work outside the camp’s boundaries. Our analysis finds that refugee camps are characterized by a parallel organizational structure in which the institutional worlds of (primarily Western) camp officials and (in our case, primarily Somali) refugees coexist. Mutual dependence between camp officials and refugees enables the use of a respected space of reciprocal tolerance and minimal intrusion, and a listening post that is perceived as a legitimate communication arrangement and that acts as a safety valve. These complementary mechanisms provide the means by which to allay the otherwise high potential of severe discontent.