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Reterritorilizing the Relationship between People and Place in Refugee Studies

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The article discusses different conceptions of space and place in refugee studies, especially contributions from anthropology and geography. A main distinction is drawn between two understandings of space and place; an essentialist conception, stating a natural relationship between people and places and an alternative conception attempting to de-naturalize the relationship between people and places. The consequences of applying different conceptions of space and place for the development of refugee policies and representations of refugees and displaced persons are addressed. For many displaced persons, displacement is experienced as being physically present at one place, but at the same time having a feeling of belonging somewhere else. It is argued that though attempts to de-naturalize the relationship between people and places have been important for how the refugee experience is conceptualized, there has been too much focus on imagination accompanied by a neglect of the local perspective of migrants and displaced people. In the local perspective of forced migration, the present lives of displaced people are emphasized. Especially the attitudes from the host communities, the policy environment that displaced people are part of, and their livelihood opportunities are the focus of regard. ‘Territoriality’ and ‘reterritorialization’ of the relationship between people and places are discussed as tools to analyse the local perspective of forced migration in general and the strategies of internally displaced persons and their hosts in Sri Lanka in particular.

Keywords: Social capital; South Africa; community-based development; non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, Norweigan University of Science and Technology

Publication date: April 1, 2001


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