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Change from within: the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the urbanisation of displacement

Wilson, N.J. (2017). Change from within: the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the urbanisation of displacement. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


The thesis examines the response of The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the urbanisation of displacement, focusing on the period 1994 to 2009. It utilises a framework based on international organisations theory, arguing that, contrary to traditional approaches to the study of international organisations, change in policy and practice resulted primarily from pressures within UNHCR. The thesis utilises state-influence and principal-agent theories to understand why UNHCR responded in the ways it did, and explain how change was achieved. It draws on constructivist insight, and the role of leaders, research and evaluation units, and epistemic communities, using the concept of the 'three UNs' as a means of framing the different actors and pressures for change shaping UNHCR's work.

The thesis is based on extensive primary documents produced primarily by UNHCR, as well as original interviews, providing new empirical data to further understanding of policymaking within UNHCR, and addressing an empirical gap on the existing literature on urban refugees. By mapping this data to the framework of 'pressure from within', 'pressure from above', and 'pressure from below', the thesis demonstrates the various actors involved in shaping change in policy and practice. It challenges attempts to characterise the 'three UNs' as separate categories, demonstrating their fluidity and frequent overlaps. The empirical analysis contributes to international organisations theory by demonstrating the important role of internal actors in eliciting change in policy and practice, identifying areas of international organisation theory in need of refinement and further exploration. Consideration is given to how positivist and post-positivist understandings can work together, and ways internal actors can shape the direction of their organisations, particularly leaders and research and evaluation units.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
[img] Text - Accepted Version
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