Yashar Mahmud with his thesis Organizing Refugees

How did you choose your subject for the dissertation?

It was not a difficult choice. Refugees are one of the greatest challenges of our times. Our disaster relief programs, legal frameworks, infrastructure, housing capabilities, business models, and political systems are put to the test. Theoretically, I am interested in how things are made or achieved, i.e. how they are organized. Although organizational studies have neglected seriously engaging with refugees, by studying the organizing practices in which refugees are made, I wanted to show that my discipline—management and organization studies—is well-equipped to enrich the understanding of refugees.



What has been easy and difficult in the work on the dissertation?

Writing a dissertation is never easy. However, there are moments that are more enjoyable than others. Hence, I can share that, for me, the most enjoyable part of writing my dissertation has been to plot the whole story. I chose to write a monograph because it allowed me to construct stories, to do narration of stories that are thoughtful and rich in description. Placing them in a way that enables events to gain meaning and show contrasting effects was fun. One of the most challenging aspects has been to see, understand, and show how refugees and practitioners that engage with them actually manage to organize the “world”. Although the practitioners and refugees shift between realities on a daily basis, it is something which researchers find hard to do.

Yashur Mahmud defends his thesis in Aula Magna

Can you tell us something about the conclusions you made in your dissertation?

Organizing Refugees shows that a) understanding reality as multiple has profound implications on organizing, and b) refugees are enacted into different but interdependent realities. By giving voice to refugees and revealing their vulnerability, I call for humanizing what has been dehumanized, and for new political ways of acting upon the world.





Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Sweden, Finland, Greece, and Bulgaria during 2015-2019, this study examines one of the greatest challenges of our time—refugees. Refugee flows are not only something chaotic but also something that is organized. In this study, the phenomenon is referred to as organizing refugees: an actor-network that consists of people, their practices, supporting non-human actors, held together by a narrative. Organizing is a verb
and implies that something is constantly being made, i.e. refugees are made through interactions between the refugees themselves, other people and non-human actors. Instead of viewing refugees as a means to explain something else, this study takes refugees as a variable that needs to be explained. Accordingly, this research is an investigation of “refugees in the making.”

Conventional organizational research takes for granted certain approaches of engaging with, seeing, and writing about the “world,” which results in the world (i.e. reality) being kept constant. By employing actor-network theory, particularly Mol's (1999; 2002) version, this study alters the notion of reality and tries to understand the world differently, i.e. as a multiple rather than a plural one. It is a dramatic shift. In this quest, I challenge the conventional organizational theories' idea of changing the epistemological conditions while keeping the reality (i.e. our perception of the world) constant. When something is made and re-made, it gives rise to different ontological worlds - it is not just about different perspectives.

The organizing of refugees thus contains different, multiple, worlds - and they interact, although their coexistence always contains more or less frictions, or tensions. It is these tensions that this dissertation focuses on and it is where Mol's version of the actor-network theory is especially useful to understand the organizing of refugees. In other words, this is an investigation into how different practices and different worldviews interact in the making of refugees and what happens in those interactions.

In this process, Organizing Refugees furthers Mol's (2002) work on multiplicity, analytically generalizes her conceptual tools, identifies—as well as accounts for—new “modes of organizing,” and offers a time multiple approach to advance our understanding of organizing. Moreover, the analysis shows how understanding of the world as multiple creates new ethical and political opportunities for organizing refugees, i.e. what we should do and what opportunities we have to act differently.