Sie Center Postdoc, Kelsey Norman, Explores Migrant and Refugee Settlement in the Global South

A photo of Kelsey taken by an interviewee while conducting fieldwork in Alexandria, Egypt in 2015.

Happy day 2 of National Postdoc Appreciation Week! We’re taking this week to acknowledge the wonderful research our DU postdocs are conducting on campus. Today we’re featuring Dr. Kelsey Norman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Josef Korbel School’s Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy. The Sié Center’s many research projects focus on managing violence and maximizing resilience at the local, national, regional, and global levels. In her scholarship, Dr. Norman examines Middle East and North African states as countries of migrant and refugee settlement. Below she explains more about her research, dissertation process, and steps she took in her postdoc job search. Happy reading!

Researcher: Dr. Kelsey Norman: I graduated in June this year from The University of California, Irvine with a Ph.D. in Political Science. I received a Master of Public Policy from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Dissertation Research: My dissertation, “Reluctant Reception: Understanding Host State Migration and Refugee Policies in Egypt, Morocco and Turkey,” explores migrant and refugee settlement in three Middle East and North African host states and asks: What policy options do states in the Global South have for engaging with migrants and refugees, and what factors make a state choose one option over another? To answer this question I conducted extensive fieldwork and 131 interviews in Egypt, Morocco and Turkey with government officials, international organizations, local NGOs, and individual migrants and refugees.  I find that in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey were able to mostly ignore the implications of their new inward migration due to three primary factors: migrants and refugees found ways to integrate into large informal economies, international organizations and domestic organizations intervened to provide essential services, and the issue of migration was not so highly politicized that it gained prolonged traction in media or amongst the national population. By allowing migrants and refugees to integrate in a de facto sense through minimal government intervention and by relying on international organizations to provide primary services, host states derive international credibility while only exerting minimal state resources.

I also look at the factors that cause migration and refugee policy to change over time in each host state. I find that geostrategic imperatives and international perceptions drive state engagement decisions more than the capacity of each host state. Capacity is therefore not only an empirical reality but also a perception that can serve strategic purposes, and this influences the choices that host states make regarding migrant and refugee responsibility. Additionally, I find that host states will enact a liberal strategy if (a) doing so allows it to co-opt domestic civil society critics, or (b) doing so will reap economic or diplomatic benefits from either a powerful neighboring state or a geostrategically important sending state. This contravenes the extant neoinstitutionalist and postnationalist explanations for why states in the Global North adopt liberal migration policies.

Research at the Sié Center: My primary project is working on turning my dissertation into a book manuscript, but I’m pursuing an active research agenda that includes: (1) further work on forced migration and host state policies in the Middle East; (2) migrant and refugee activism in semi-authoritarian settings; (3) the rise of global migration deterrence measures; (4) diaspora involvement in home country politics; (5) the role of international organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in determining host state migration policy outcomes. I currently work with Dr. Deborah Avant, the Director of the Sié Chéou-Kang for International Security and Diplomacy, but I look forward to working with various members of the center and of the broader Korbel academic community.

Biggest Challenge as a Doctoral Student: Endurance. Working on a project for five+ years is difficult under any circumstances. I began my dissertation project in 2012, just following the Arab Spring and as Syrians were only beginning to seek refuge in neighboring countries. I did not anticipate, as I was finishing fieldwork in the summer of 2015, that the migration and refugee “crises” I had been researching would suddenly become front-page news in Europe, the United States and across the world. What had been a niche topic as I was writing proposals, seeking out contacts and conducting interviews, suddenly became mainstream. Initially this seemed promising: increased attention would mean increased support in terms of international funding and perhaps even refugee resettlement. But the momentary global sympathy after the body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach quickly dissipated, and was replaced by xenophobic nationalism, anti-immigration platforms, and calls for reinforced borders. Against this backdrop, the process of writing my dissertation between 2015 and 2017 was difficult. Often I felt that my efforts would have been better directed toward activism or public engagement that attempted to counter some of the racist and exclusionary rhetoric that has become so prominent. But I persisted in finishing my dissertation and the degree, and I’m hopeful that the research I conducted will eventually be available as a book, meaning that the labor and time spent in relative isolation won’t have been in vain!

Postdoc Job Search Steps:  I applied widely for postdocs and jobs. The primary resource I used was APSA ejobs, but because I was also looking at positions in policy schools or affiliated with institutes that aren’t necessarily composed of political scientists, I looked at positions advertised via other websites as well, including and As a bit of advice, it’s a good idea to let other academics (in your department or elsewhere) know that you’re on the job market. Sometimes job advertisements aren’t circulated widely enough, but if something crosses your colleague’s desk and they know you’re in the process of looking for a postdoctoral position, they can easily forward the advertisement to you.

Advice for DU Doctoral Students: Various people during the course of my PhD told me, “the best dissertation is a finished dissertation.” Your dissertation won’t be perfect, and if you’re hoping to eventually publish it as a book you’ll have to do substantial rewriting anyway. More generally, I think this mentality applies to publishing and having your writing available for academic or public audiences. Don’t fret too much about perfection, and be brave about getting your ideas out there for peer-review or public critique.