Karen Jacobsen

Karen JacobsenLeir Chair in Global Migration, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Research Director, Feinstein International Center

Working with Feinstein Since: 2000
Based in: Medford, MA

Karen Jacobsen directs Feinstein’s Refugees and Forced Migration Research Program. At Fletcher and Friedman, she teaches courses on forced migration and field research methods, and advises Ph.D. and master’s degree students.

Karen is a recognized expert in the field of forced migration, and she consults and writes widely on this topic. From 2013–2014 she headed the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) in Geneva, on leave of absence from Tufts. From 2000–2005, she directed the Alchemy Project, which explored the use of microfinance as a way to support people in refugee camps and other displacement settings.

Karen received her B.A. from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, her M.A. from Northeastern University, and her PhD in Political Science from MIT.

A South African by birth, Karen travels there frequently. She lives in Brookline with her son and dogs.

Research Interests:
  • Urban displacement
  • Refugee and IDP rights and livelihoods
  • Migration and refugee policy
Regional Focus:
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Middle East
Courses Taught:
  • Forced Migration (DHP D239), Spring Term
  • Introduction to Research Methods (DHP D235), Spring Term
Most Cited Books and Articles:
  • Karen Jacobsen. 2005. The Economic Life of Refugees. Kumarian Press.
  • Dyan Mazurana, Karen Jacobsen and Lacey Gale, eds. 2013. A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones. Cambridge University Press.
  • Karen Jacobsen. 2014. “Livelihoods and Forced Migration.” The Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Oxford University Press.
  • Karen Jacobsen and Loren B. Landau. 2003.  “The Dual Imperative in Refugee Research: Some Methodological and Ethical Considerations in Social Science Research on Forced Migration.” Disasters 27(3).
  • Karen Jacobsen. 2002. “Can refugees benefit the state? Refugee resources and African state building.” Journal of Modern African Studies 40 (4): 577-596.

News Items

Karen Jacobsen urges critical thinking about data quality at JIPS Conference
July 26, 2017

Karen Jacobsen gave a keynote address at the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) Conference: Making Data Useful in June 2017. In her address, she notes that “if the data we…

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Feinstein faculty and researchers help students prepare for summer fieldwork
May 26, 2017

In May, Feinstein faculty and researchers conducted several workshops for students (particularly those with upcoming summer research internships) to help them prepare for practicalities in the field: Kim Wilson and…

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Feinstein Research Projects

Refugees in Towns
By Karen Jacobsen | March 2017

This project collects and commissions case studies of urban settings (towns, cities or sub-areas of cities) in which refugees or internally displaced people have been living for more than two years.

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Profiling for Displacement Situations
By Karen Jacobsen | September 2013

Our research on and methodology for profiling will help aid agencies better understand the livelihood issues confronting displaced people and non-displaced locals in urban settings.

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Feinstein Publications

Building Livelihood Opportunities for Refugee Populations: Lessons from Past Practice
By Karen Jacobsen, Susan Fratzke | September 2016

This report outlines the types of livelihood efforts that aid agencies have undertaken in countries of first asylum and explores the challenges they face in realizing the full promise of these approaches. The authors offer recommendations to improve effectiveness.

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Forced Displacement, Go Figure! Shaking the Box of Profiling IDP Situations

This book is a joint effort from JIPS and the Feinstein International Center that calls for an update to the existing international guidance for profiling.

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