Karen Jacobsen

Associate Research Professor, Acting Director of the Feinstein International Center

  • PhD, Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • SM, Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • MA, Northeastern University
  • BA, University of Witwatersrand


Karen Jacobsen is Associate Professor of Research at The Fletcher School and the Acting Director of the Feinstein International Center (Friedman School of Nutrition) where she also directs the Refugees and Forced Migration Program. She has taught and conducted research in the field of forced migration for twenty years, and consults and writes widely on this topic. She is particularly interested in the livelihoods of refugees and other displaced people and the ways in which they regain their dignity and financial independence, and her book addresses this issue. From 2013-14 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. Her current research focuses on urban displacement and information gathering in conflict-affected settings. She is South African by birth and travels there frequently. She received her B.A. from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and her PhD in Political Science from MIT. She lives in Brookline with her son and dogs.

Professional Activities
  • Consultant for UNHCR and NGOs
  • Advisory Boards for various refugee organizations

  • Institute for Human Security

Research Interests
  • Refugee and migration issues
  • humanitarian assistance, livelihoods in complex emergencies
  • field methods, Africa
  • developing countries

• Karen Jacobsen, Maysa Ayoub & Alice Johnson, “Remittances to Transition Countries: Sudanese refugee livelihoods in Cairo,” Journal of Refugee Studies 27 (1): 145-159 (2014)
• Helen Young and Karen Jacobsen, "No way back? Adaptation and urbanization of IDP livelihoods in the Darfur region of Sudan," Development and Change, 44(1) 2012.
Rebecca Furst Nichols and Karen Jacobsen, “African Migration to Israel: Debt, Employment and Remittances,” Forced Migration Review, 2011.
• Karen Jacobsen. 2007. Migration within Africa: The view from South Africa. The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 31(1):203-214.
• "Introduction: Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Urban Areas: A Livelihoods Perspective," Journal of Refugee Studies (2006);
Jacobsen, Karen, Anastasia Marshak, Akua Ofori-Adjei and Jane Kembabazi. "Using Microenterprise Interventions to Support the Livelihoods of Forcibly Displaced People: The Impact of a Microcredit Program in IDP Camps in Lira, Northern Uganda." Refugee Survey Quarterly 25, no. 2 (2006): 23-39.
• The Refugees in Urban Settings. Special Issue of Journal of Refugee Studies (guest editor) (2006);
Jacobsen, Karen and Loren B. Landau. "Recommendations for Urban Refugee Policy." Forced Migration Review 23, (2005).
Jacobsen, Karen and Loren B. Landau. "The Value of Transparency, Replicability and Representativeness." Forced Migration Review 22, (2005): 46-.
• Jacobsen, Karen. "Just Enough for the City: Urban Refugees Make Their Own Way ." World Refugee Survey 1, (2004).
Jacobsen, Karen and Loren B. Landau. "Refugees in the New Johannesburg." Forced Migration Review 19, (2004).
• Jacobsen, Karen and Loren Landau. "The Dual Imperative in Refugee Research: Some Methodological and Ethical Considerations in Social Science Research on Forced Migration." Disasters 27, no. 3 (2003): 185-206.
• Jacobsen, Karen. "Livelihoods in Conflict: the Pursuit of Livelihoods by Refugees and the Impact on the Human Security of Host Communities." International Migration 40, no. 5 (2002): 95-.
• Jacobsen, Karen. "Can refugees benefit the state? Refugee resources and African statebuilding." Journal of Modern African Studies 40, no. 4 (2002): 577-596.
• "African States and the Politics of Refugees: Refugee Assistance as Political Resources," Journal of Modern African Studies (2002);
Jacobsen, Karen and Jeff Crisp. "Refugee Camps Reconsidered ." Forced Migration Review 3, (1998): 27-.
Jacobsen, Karen. "Refugees' Environmental Impact: The Effect of Patterns of Settlement ." Journal of Refugee Studies 10, no. 1 (1997): 19-.
• Jacobsen, Karen. "Factors Influencing the Policy Responses of Host Governments to Mass Refugee Influxes." International Migration Review 30, no. 3 (1996): 655-678.
• "Impact of refugees on the environment: a review of the evidence." International Migration and Security. June 1994.

• D. Mazurana, K. Jacobsen and L. Gale (eds.) A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones. Cambridge University Press. 2013.
• Jacobsen, Karen. The Economic Life of Refugees. Kumarian Press, 2005.

• “Livelihoods and Economics in Forced Migration” The Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, Oxford University Press. 2014.
• Karen Jacobsen, “Profiling Urban IDPs: How IDPs differ from their non-IDP neighbors in three cities.” The Migration-Displacement Nexus: Patterns, Processes, and Policies, Edited by Khalid Koser and Susan Martin, Berghahn, 2012.
• Karen Jacobsen, “Refugees and Poverty” Refugees Worldwide, Editors: Uma A. Segal and Doreen Elliott. Praeger, 2012
• Karen Jacobsen, “The economic security of refugees and IDPs: social capital, remittances and humanitarian assistance,” Global Challenges: Migration, edited by Kavita Khoury, Palgrave/MacMillan, 2012.
• Karen Jacobsen, H. Young and A. Osman, “Refugees and IDPs in Peacemaking Processes” Contemporary Peacemaking: Conflict, Peace Processes and Post-war Reconstruction. 2nd Edition. Edited by John Darby and Roger Mac Ginty. Palgrave 2008



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