Case Studies: Ethnography in Action

Summary: The UNHCR and partners sought to understand the source of expressed dissatisfaction and related challenges in the delivery and utilization of food assistance in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya. While this dissatisfaction had been observed by many surveys conducted by the World Food Programme and other organizations, there was a huge gap in understanding the ways in which refugees understood and internalized their dissatisfactions and the relief shortcomings, and in exploring ways by which refugees transformed from being passive recipients of relief largesse to being active participants in their own lives. Ethnographic research was used to define and operationalize ‘dignity’ for the benefit of all stakeholder populations at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya.

Summary: In 2014, UNHCR, the office of the Governor of Turkana County, and the Government of Kenya called a roundtable to discuss the idea that the refugees and the host community of Kakuma could pool their various skills, expertise, and forms of capital to convert Kakuma into a self-sustaining ‘city.’ There was a lot of anecdotal data and ethnographic observations that suggested that this idea was not inconceivable. This study was seminal in convincing both the local Turkana and the national Kenyan government that refugees can be beneficial for local and even national host populations.

Summary: This case study examines the impacts of deregulation on a highly regulated economy through a combination of ethnographic and social network analysis. The primary challenge was to examine the relationship between trader responses (political connections, investment in trader vs. political networks, sharing of clients and markets) and changes in network structure as the economy shifted from regulated to deregulated. This research has significant implications for policy-makers when considering the impact of deregulation as part of structural adjustment programs.