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:
  • Current Issues in Global Immigration Policy (DHP 238), Fall Term
  • Forced Migration (DHP D239), Spring Term
  • Introduction to Research Methods (DHP D235), Spring Term
Most Cited Books and Articles:
  • Jacobsen, Karen. The Economic Life of Refugees. Kumarian Press, 2005.
  • Mazurana, Dyan, Karen Jacobsen and Lacey Gale. A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Jacobsen, Karen. “Livelihoods and Forced Migration.” The Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Jacobsen, Karen and Loren B. Landau. “The Dual Imperative in Refugee Research: Some Methodological and Ethical Considerations in Social Science Research on Forced Migration.” Disasters 27, 3 (2003).
  • Jacobsen, Karen. “Can refugees benefit the state? Refugee resources and African state building.” Journal of Modern African Studies 40, 4 (2002). 577-596.

News Items

Feinstein faculty and alum honored at Institute for Human Security Event
September 21, 2017

On September 18, 2017 Feinstein faculty and an alum were honored at the naming event of the Henry J. Leir Institute for Human Security. Fletcher Masters of Arts in Law…

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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 Research Projects

Refugees in Towns

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

A frozen conflict and a humanitarian program that works: UNHCR’s confidence building measures in Western Sahara
Western Sahara Conflict humanitarian intervention
By Karen Jacobsen | November 2017

This report describes a relatively unknown humanitarian program that has addressed one of the saddest aspects of displacement – the separation of families. Between 2004 and 2014, UNHCR’s Confidence Building Measures…

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Cities of Refuge
By World Bank, Karen Jacobsen | October 2017

This policy note focuses on urban forced displacement from the perspective of receiving towns and cities.

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