Karen Jacobsen

Karen Jacobsen

160 Packard Avenue, Medford, MA 02155
Research/Areas of Interest:

Refugee and migration issues; Field methods, Africa; Humanitarian assistance, livelihoods in complex emergencies; Developing countries


  • Ph.D., Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • M.A., Political Science, Northeastern University
  • B.A., University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg


Karen Jacobsen is the Henry J. Leir Professor in Global Migration at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and directs the Refugees in Towns Project at the Feinstein International Center (Tufts). Professor Jacobsen’s current research explores urban displacement and global migration, with a focus on the livelihoods and financial resilience of migrants and refugees, and on climate- and environment-related mobility. In 2013-2014, she was on leave from Tufts, leading the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) at United Nations in Geneva. From 2000-2005, she directed the Alchemy Project, which explored the use of microfinance to support people in refugee camps and other displacement settings.

Prof. Jacobsen’s Ph.D. in Political Science is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her areas of expertise include refugee and migration issues, humanitarian assistance in developing countries, urban impact, and climate change and migration. She is currently at work on a book that examines the impact of displacement on cities.  Her previous books include A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones (with Mazurana and Gale, Cambridge UP 2013 ); and The Economic Life of Refugees (Lynne Rienner, 2005), which is widely used in courses on forced migration. She consults and works closely with UNHCR and other UN agencies and international NGOs. She is a citizen of both South Africa and the U.S., and splits her time between Brookline, MA and western Maine (Andover, ME).

Areas of expertise

Economic Development
Globalization & Trade
Humanitarian Affairs
International Law & Organizations
Negotiations & Conflict Resolution
Political Development

Professional Activities

  • Consultant for UNHCR, World Bank and NGOs
  • Coordinator, Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS), Gevena (2013-14)
  • Assistant Professor, Regis College (1995-99)

Other Affiliations

  • International Association for the Study of Forced Migration
  • Henry J. Leir Institute

Courses taught

Selected Publications and Presentations


Karen Jacobsen and Susan Fratzke, "Building Livelihoods Opportunities for Refugee Populations", TransAtlantic Council on Migration and Migration Policy Institute. 2016.

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.

Anne Davies and Karen Jacobsen. 'Profiling urban IDPs'. Forced Migration Review, 2010.

"Introduction: Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Urban Areas: A Livelihoods Perspective" Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 19 (3): 273-286. June 2006.

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, Vol. 27(3) September. Pp. 185-206.

"Livelihoods in Conflict: the Pursuit of Livelihoods by Refugees and the Impact on the Human Security of Host Communities," International Migration, Volume 40(5), Special Issue 2. pp. 95-124. 2002.

"Can refugees benefit the state? Refugee resources and African statebuilding ," Journal of Modern African Studies, 40(4). 2002 pp. 577-596.

"Factors Influencing the Policy Responses of Host Governments to Mass Refugee Influxes," International Migration Review, Vol. XXX, No. 3, Fall 1996.


D. Mazurana, K. Jacobsen and L. Gale (eds.) A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones. Cambridge University Press. 2013.

Dyan Mazurana, Karen Jacobsen, and Lacey Gale (editors). 2013. Research Methods in Conflict Settings: A View from Below. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge and New York.

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