SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Karen Schouw Iversen

  • Research


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Karen Schouw Iversen
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Thesis title:
Humanitarian Activist Citizens: Desplazado Protests and State Humanitarianism in Bogotá, Colombia
Internal Supervisors


Karen completed her PhD thesis in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS in April 2021. Her research looks at activism and citizenship in contexts of forced migration and humanitarian aid provisions. She holds an MSc in Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a BA in Swahili and Development Studies from SOAS, University of London. Her research interests span migration, resistance, humanitarianism, and citizenship.

PhD Research

In her thesis, Karen explored the context of Colombia, where the state has taken on the responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to the millions of desplazados who have been internally displaced within the context of the country’s civil war. The thesis examined how state-citizen relations have been shaped by the state-led provision of humanitarian assistance to desplazados, broadly arguing that this has opened up new opportunities for desplazado activism, allowing desplazados to emerge as a distinct class of humanitarian activist citizens. By accentuating the political ambivalent outcomes of humanitarianism, the thesis contributes to the critical literature on humanitarianism, which has emphasised its depoliticising effects but paid less attention to the forms of resistance humanitarianism can make possible.


• ‘What does it mean to resist? Rethinking the relationship between mobilisations around citizenship and forms of solidarity beyond citizenship’, Development Studies Migration Research Cluster Brown Bag Lunch Talks, SOAS, London, 11th June 2019.
• ‘Rethinking Desplazado Struggles over Citizenship’ Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting: Geographies of Resistance, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg 27-31st of May 2019.
• ‘Activism as an alternative to humanitarianism: tales from Bogotá’, SOAS Journal of Postgraduate Research and Centre for Migration & Diaspora Studies Joint Mobilities Conference, SOAS, London, 23 March 2019.
• ‘Desplazado protests and struggles over citizenship in Bogotá’, Refugee Studies Centre Conference 2019: Democratizing Displacement, New College, Oxford, 18-19th March 2019.


• SOAS Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies


  • Forced Migration
  • Humanitarianism
  • Social Movements
  • Political Violence