Department of Politics and Society

Research strategy for GRS - Global Refugee Studies


GRS works to foster and communicate a deeper understanding of what happens when the world is moved and people move within it. Whether conflict, natural disaster, climate change, or poverty are the critical moving factors, GRS’s multi-disciplinary research capacity offers outstanding analyses of the relationship between large-scale political or critical processes and the lived experiences of people on the ground. We explore the underlying dynamics of forced migration, the ways that refugees and marginalized maneuver, and the intersection between these groups and authorities’ attempt to curb, tap into, or manage these movements. Through our multi-disciplinary research capacity we offer diverse stakeholders as policy-makers, NGO’s, humanitarian agencies, municipal level actors, housing-related agents, fellow academics and students, and the broader public a stronger and better informed knowledge base to engage the challenges and resources that arise from these encounters.

The vision is animated by the analysis that conflict, movement, forced displacement as well as the inability to move are intimately interconnected in an increasingly globalized world in which the majority live precarious and uncertain lives. As this field is one of the central political battlefields of our time, GRS contributes to a thoroughly informed debate, not only on the contested issues of refugees and migration, but also on the complex and conflictual relationships in which authorities – state or non-state – and the paths of people intersect and intertwine.

Where we stand – research and teaching

In past and present projects, GRS researchers have contributed and continue to do so to the sound debate by analyzing those conflicts and social structures, which both locally and in their global forms give rise to conditions of simultaneous forced displacement, inabilities to move, precariousness and violence. Focus has also been on mobility be it voluntary, semi-forced or forced between North and South, East and West as well as within the developing world and countries in transition in the form of labour migration, rural-urban migration, resettlement, diasporic movements and flight. Analyses also focus on how states’ border and migration control systems may also themselves produce displacements through externalized control practices, including the interception, detention, deportation and forced transportation of persons. Deepening our understanding of continuities and ruptures of such phenomena, GRS researchers also examine postcolonial dimensions of displacement. Finally, we have focused on how people on the move have been received, navigated themselves in their new environment and between ‘old’ and ‘new’ spaces. Geographically, GRS researchers work in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia as well as with global politics and structures. Methodologically, GRS is an inter-disciplinary unit staffed with scholars with backgrounds in history, international development, anthropology, philosophy, human rights and law, political theory and international relations. While coming from different backgrounds, there is a concerted attempt to briung the different competencies together in concrete research projects.

Hence, while there is a distinct focus in much of the work on refugees, refugees must be understood within broader historical structures of conflict and political economy, and as a socially constructed category from within a national order of things, which has had different meanings through time. Refugees have not always been on the run and their status will change over time; people living in ghettos and urban areas, for example, have often been displaced by conflict or social precariousness. GRS researchers aim to understand these relationships in their complexities, rather than focusing uniquely on the moment of forced displacement and the entry of the displaced into specific legal and political categories. Hence GRS is not a refugee studies center, a migration studies center or a conflict studies center, but we attempt to study these phenomena together.

In terms of education, GRS has been successful in producing a coherent and attractive MA study programme that reflects the overall understanding of the relationship between conflict, forced displacement, the inability and the possibilities to move. Located at Aalborg University, project work and problem-based learning is central combined with course work in law, International Relations, culture and global studies. As part of the study programme, students are encouraged to engage in internships to connect theoretical analysis with practical and problem-based engagement. The mixture of academic and practical elements has proven attractive to a global student body and in 2015 GRS could only accept 20% of those who applied. However, there is still room for improvement to realize the full potential. As part of institutional developments at Aalborg University including a strategic commitment to develop the relationship between teaching, research and knowledge collaboration with external stakeholders (AAU strategy, 2016-2020) and a financial commitment to develop the Copenhagen Campus in general and GRS in specific, the potential might be realized.

Outcomes, goals and end-states (5 year horizon)

In order to accomplish the GRS vision, align with the overall AAU strategy and to build on the strengths of the past, GRS aims to achieve a number of outcomes – or end states – over the next five year period internally and in relation to important stakeholders.

  1. In 2020, GRS has become a stable and well-functioning research and teaching unit with an expanding, highly qualified permanent staff and a turnover of 3-4 PhD students and 3-4 post doc researchers, assistant professors and associate professors with transparent career prospects. This is to be achieved through a recruitment strategy covering different disciplinary outlooks, and balancing ambitions of width and depth in refugee studies and its linkages to violence, displacement and development-issues  In this way, it has become an attractive work place with the ability to attract the best researchers nationally and globally. Working in research teams across the unit, the university and with external research collaborators, GRS researchers at all levels are natural collaboration partners in national and international research endeavors.
  2. In 2020, teaching has become fully integrated into research work and vice versa. Students are recruited based on the overall quality academically as well as their experience. They experience that they are part of a productive and generous knowledge environment in which they are invited to reflect and critically engage the world in which they live and where they can see possible future prospects because of their training at GRS.
  3. In 2020, building on the experiences and commitment to transcend the practice-academic dichotomy, GRS has formed productive and committed partnerships with important external stakeholders. As such GRS has become a natural partner for external stakeholders in policy circles, the media and civil society organizations with the ability to attract funding for collaborative research and advocacy efforts with these partners regarding the relationship between conflict, forced displacement and inability to move and how those caught in these structures navigate.

Activities and initiatives 

In order to achieve these strategic goals (end-states or outcomes), a number of activities and initiatives – as pre-conditions – will be developed and implemented over the next period. The initiatives will be evaluated against the strategic goals on an annual basis to assess their usefulness in achieving the goals as well as which new initiatives are necessary for the period between 2018 and 2020.

Expansion of GRS staff:

  1. In 2016, recruitment and application drives will be initiated to secure at least 2 Assistant Professors, 2 PhD students, 2 post docs and 1 Associate Professor. Funding for this will be (and has been secured) from university and external funds.
  2. In 2017: Application drives to secure at least two staff members (post docs or PhD).
  3. In 2018-19: At least 1 Assistant Professorship to enable GRS to attract and maintain excellent PhD students through having prospects after their PhD.
  4. In 2020:1-2 Associate Professors should be recruited to ensure tenure track for the employed Assistant Professors and Post.Doc

Internal research activities

In 2016, a number of initiatives will be further developed and institutionalized in order to establish GRS as a coherent research and teaching unit at AAU internal to GRS and in relation to CGS Copenhagen to ensure collaboration and to realize strategic, thematic and analytical potentials, as well as producing an environment conducive to publication and research dessimenation. These initiatives comprise:

  1. Monthly staff meetings within GRS dealing with administrative and research questions as needed.
  2. Focused writing workshops will be established every second month in which authors’ from the unit present and discuss their work with peer GRS researchers, in order to get critical feedback with the aim of preparing high quality publications in peer reviewed journals, anthologies and reports. The purpose is both to provide collective support to the writing process for all staff and to generate an intellectual community.
  3. GRS PhD students are integrated into a productive work environment and PhD milieu at AAU CPH to ensure and stimulate their professional development. As part of this, GRS will assume responsibilities in relation to the PhD school. As part of the 2016 international conference (see below), GRS plans to co-host a PhD seminar with TRU and other interested research units in Copenhagen.

External research activities

In line with AAU strategies, international research networks and participation in large research application are central for the GRS strategies:

  1. In 2016 or 2017 GRS will have initiated or participate as a central partner in at least one larger EU research project application.
  2. In 2016: One International seminar will be organized in late 2016 drawing in a number of different northern European and possibly southern research institutions, drawn from among present GRS networks and future ones. The aim of the seminar is to confirm GRS’s position in the Nordic and Northern European as a leading research unit and natural partner for research collaboration in relation to refugees, conflict and mobility.
  3. In 2017 GRS will organize and host a research event concerning postcolonial politics of forced migration, as well as eight workshops inviting national and international capacities to GRS.
  4. In 2016 and 2017, GRS will develop and seek formal inclusion in several research networks nationally and globally.
  5. In 2018 GRS will host one major international conference and two international workshops.

Research-based teaching environment

  1. To develop teaching-research synergies, strategic teaching collaboration with other research units will be established with a view to develop collective research and teaching initiatives (like GRS-TRU but also with CoMID and Criminology). When GRS staff teaches in other units it should be considered how this might develop into research initiatives. Similarly, as far as possible, when staff from other units is invited to teach at GRS it should possibly be part of a research collaboration. This will allow for the further development of teaching and research around thematic issues like mobility, diversity, gender, generation, the city and state violence.
  2. 2016: The teaching curriculum will be re-assessed to reflect and support research-driven teaching and to encourage involvement and student knowledge of GRS research activities.
  3. 2016-17: Student involvement and milieu will be developed, supported and encouraged through a string of experiments like salons, extra-curricular activities and more activist, study trips and cultural activities and web-presence. As far as possible this must happen through the education board and with initiative by the study body.

External communication to broader public

  1. In 2016 and 2017, GRS will have a more convincing presence on the web and social media networks through development of Facebook page, linking to other pages and institutions, develop the GRS homepage and using synergies between these different platforms. Student development and activism will be integrated in these ambitions.
  2. Contacts to the press and the media will be further developed to secure GRS a central position in the broader public as a central source of knowledge on issues of refugees, displacement and conflict.
  3. GRS as a research unit will seek to build stronger network with civil society organizations, municipalities, state organizations and research networks that work in the field of refugees, displacement and conflict in Denmark and beyond. This will both be harnessed for future research networks, advocacy on issues around displacement and for student activism who might contribute to these networks as stipulated above.
  4. Drawing on existing networks from for instance the students’ internships, GRS will establish mutually committed relationships with the NGO sector in Denmark and abroad with the view to increase the employability of students and to establish collaboration between GRS as an academic institution and interventionist organizations to influence policy agendas and to increase the funding possibilities.

Status of document

While this document must guide our work, it should also be a living and dynamic document. Hence, it will need to be discussed and reflected upon. In mid-2016, the GRS group will revisit the document to assess its usefulness. At the end of every year of the strategic period, concrete activities will be re-assessed and discussed to allow for necessary revisions.

This document has been updated in February 2017.

Contact GRS

Head of research Steffen Jensen

Phone: +45 9940 8313 

Department of Politics and Society • Fibigerstræde 1 og 3, 9220 Aalborg East • Frederikskaj 10B, 2450 Copenhagen SV
Phone.: +45 9940 8310 • Email:
VAT no.: 29102384 • EAN no.: 5798000420656 • P numbers: Aalborg: 1003888237, Copenhagen: 1018019139