Abstract This article examines social orders of refugee camps, showing that they have a much higher complexity than is captured in theoretical conceptions that emphasize top-down notions of camp regime structures and power. The plurality of governing actors and power relations is highlighted by refugee camp studies, serving as a starting point for this article. Drawing on an ethnomethodologically informed ethnographic research approach, the example of aid delivery in a Burmese refugee camp in Thailand is used to show how camp residents establish powerful social micro structures. These are, for example, the locally achieved ‘disciplinary institution’ and ‘public camp secrets’. The article argues that the association of these micro structures generates the social order of camps. Further, it demonstrates the fruitfulness of an ethnomethodological approach for refugee studies that goes beyond discourses surrounding the camp, governing techniques and narratives of refugees—instead focusing in on people’s practices in concrete situations and events. Introduction Many case studies recently highlight the multiplicity, heterogeneity and complexity of power relations in camps (Hanafi and Long 2010; Inhetveen 2010; Maestri 2017). Camp sovereignty is described as multiple (Hanafi and Long 2010), plural (McConnachie 2012), hybrid (Ramadan and Fregonese 2017) and contentious (Maestri 2017). This article builds on findings that frame camps as ‘multiply inflected, contradictory spaces’ (Peteet 2005: 31) where institutional and structural constrains, human creativity and micro processes intersect. In particular, the power of micro structures established by the camp community itself will be highlighted. Empirically, this article aims to demonstrate, based on an ethnography of praxis, that camp residents are part of the production of camp order (cp. also Bochmann 2017). Camp residents themselves establish orders of social control, and are therefore not merely the product of humanitarian intervention or indeed of national politics. How camp residents themselves produce specific camp orders and forms of discipline is shown via the example of aid-delivery practices in a Burmese refugee camp in Thailand. In particular, distribution practices in regard to food rations establish a unique form of both public bureaucracy in its strict sense and miniature examination—each of which is essential when it comes to individuals identifying each other as camp residents entitled to the benefits of aid. Moreover, the way the event is organized functions to absorb conflicts and to make the equal treatment of camp residents publically observable. I argue that these practices illustrate how camp residents are themselves involved in examining and controlling each other. The point is that this is a case of a disciplinary institution created by and maintained by the community, rather than being merely forced on them by an outer camp regime. The case demonstrates how powerful micro structures are, and how they are established and re-established by the participants of such events. Relatedly, this article further shows that there are good organizational reasons for camp residents to wrongly document their ration books, which are designed to document (for the aid agency) camp residents’ attendance, as well as the amount of rations distributed during the event. In particular, it is necessary for the section officials to falsify these documents, since otherwise they are not able to carry out and maintain the necessary community work in the section. In this case, the section leader is able to disregard certain rules laid down by aid agencies and instead establishes new, contrary rules that, however, have to be kept as, what I refer to, a ‘public camp secret’. It is public because the section community is informed about it by section staff members (to prevent mistrust), but needs to kept as a secret to the aid agency. The ability to establish such a public secret makes the power of all section residents visible. Sharing such a secret establishes unity and solidarity among the community. But the unity and the shared solidarity among section residents in turn make it possible for the section leader to present the solution-oriented approach that constitutes such a secret. Public camp secrets are established that demonstrate another form of microstructure. Again, the community (and not only the section leader) disciplines itself, since to keep the secret within the section is good for community interests. Based on these two cases, this article questions approaches that emphasize top-down notions of camp regimes as totally defining camp life. We cannot doubt the power that the international humanitarian refugee regime (including aid agencies and nation states) has in constructing the camp. Nonetheless, this article emphasizes that camp residents1 are not simply victims of camp structures imposed by these actors, but rather are part of the creating, maintaining and reinforcing of camp micro structures. The research findings demonstrate the fruitfulness of a praxeological approach,2 on the grounds that it frees the ‘activity from the determining grasp of objectified social structures and systems, to question individual actions and their status as the building-blocks of social phenomena’ (Schatzki 2001: 10). The article does not seek to understand camps via the discourses surrounding them (Soguk 1999), the social constructions of state practices, the governing techniques of relief agencies (Hyndman 2000; Inhetveen 2010: 119ff.) or the subjective narrations or perceptions of camp residents (Turner 2004: 228; Inhetveen 2010: 102ff.). Rather, this methodology goes beyond narratives and discourses surrounding the camp, and instead focuses on people’s practices. An ethnomethodologically informed ethnography basically means to study and analyse concrete practices. The empirical material is based on long-term field research in Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, which are well known as camps where residents experience a high degree of community autonomy and participation in decision-making processes (Bowles 1997, 1998; Loescher and Milner 2008; McConnachie 2012: 40).3 Burmese refugee camps are established by the government of Thailand in collaboration with refugee representatives and aid agencies. There is no legal framework for the establishment of these camps. The camps are characteristic for their plurality of state and non-state actors (McConnachie 2012). The distribution events make this aspect particularly visible because the camp community themselves organize the distribution event. However, the article also shows that aid agencies are perceived by the community as those who dictate distribution rules. That is why camp residents need to secretly adapt these rules to the local situation. The article is structured in the following way. First, I briefly discuss the current state of research, from a theoretical point of view, regarding the order of refugee camps. The strength of these theoretical perspectives is considered as well as the blind spots that they produce. Second, the theoretical perspectives of both methodological situationalism and ethnomethodology are introduced as a way of helping to elucidate and explore these blind spots. Here, I introduce the methodology and the procedures applied in the research process, since they are strongly interlinked with the various theoretical perspectives. Third, I present empirical data, and findings and analysis, of two different cases: I explain how the distribution event is organized and how camp residents deal with the distribution rules made up by the aid agency. Finally, my concluding remarks aim to present the basic insights that we gain and the contribution to our understanding of social orders in a refugee camp when we research with an ethnomethodological approach. Power and Governance in Refugee Camps There are two4 main theoretical approaches in contemporary analysis of power relations and governance in refugee camps: Georgio Agamben’s work on the state of exception; and the Foucauldian notions of discipline, biopolitics and governmentality. These concepts are introduced in the following, alongside research studies and their findings inspired by these approaches. Agamben argues that the camp provides a paradigm example for showing us the biopolitical processes of the modern world (2002: 127). The state sovereign makes the decision about a ‘state of exception’ such as the refugee camp that is permanently realized and, hence, becomes the rule (Agamben 2000: 38). This is so because refugees do not neatly fit into the citizenship categorization system of the modern world. They have no politically qualified membership and so are made to be apolitical, and reduced to bare life (Agamben 2000). Refugees are excluded from political status and ‘the normal identities and ordered spaces of the sovereign state’ (Nyers 2006: xiii–xv). Therefore, Hyndman and Malkki rightly argue that camps enable temporary technologies of care and control (Malkki 1992: 34). Through their exclusion, they are temporarily included in the ‘normal order of things’ (Malkki 1995). Agamben further argues that this permanent state of exception makes it possible for individuals to become subject to various forms of violence without legal consequences (Agamben 2002: 183). Agamben describes the camp as the laboratory of the experiment of total power, and a pure, absolutely and unsurpassed space of biopolitics where anything is possible. Agamben’s theoretical work highlights empirically grounded findings regarding how refugee camps are a product of states and the nation state order (Malkki 1995). Nonetheless, the conception of the camp as a space of exception also has faced criticism (Owens 2009). On the one hand, it has been accused of losing sight of the multiple and complex sovereignties and governing actors of refugee camps. On the other hand, it has also been accused of neglecting the agency and creativity of camp residents. His perspective is state-centred, and not focused on how the state of exception is put into action through actors beyond the state (Maestri 2017: 214). Empirical studies show that refugee camps are not spaces where one sovereign is able to suspend or establish the rule of law. Rather, multiple actors contribute to the state of exception (Hanafi and Long 2010) and camps contain complex power relations and sovereignties (Ramadan 2013; Maestri 2017). Camps are hardly governed by a single camp logic, but poly-hierarchical bureaucratic structures exist (Inhetveen 2010). This article will therefore build on understandings of camps as ‘multiply inflected, contradictory spaces’ (Peteet 2005: 31), where institutional and structural constraints and human creativity and micro processes intersect. In particular, the power of individual refugees within the community has been identified as considerable, for instance by Jansen in the context of the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (Jansen 2011: 73). Similarly, Ramadan argues that camp residents’ practices ‘must be understood as a form of political agency, not the silent expression of “bare life”’ (2013: 66). There are studies that demonstrate how refugees have the agency to structure their lives in the camps and that, in refugee camps, it is not the case that ‘anything is possible’ (Horst 2008; Holzer 2015). In line with this, Fresia and von Känel argue in their study about camp schooling that camps ‘cannot be reduced to the single rationality of bare life’ (Fresia and von Känel 2015: 251). These findings chime with how other researchers argue that rules, values and norms practised in refugee camps are not independent from the outside world (Lang 2002; Dudley 2010). Agamben’s considerations regarding camp contexts are both enriching and necessary for understanding the characteristic political aspects of refugee camps. In particular, they help to elucidate the power of the ‘humanitarian industry’ (Agier 2011) and the world order of nation states where every person must belong to a nation state (Malkki 1995). Still, with Agamben’s conception, power somehow remains a large-scale macro phenomenon and thus risks overlooking power created within interpersonal relations or interaction. That is, power seems to be viewed as repressive and binary: on the one hand, there is a dominating state or institution power; on the other hand, there are those who are dominated. Whilst this makes sense from a macro perspective, from a micro and local perspective, empirical research has demonstrated that sovereignty and power relations in refugee camps are in fact much more complex. This critique can also be applied to studies that compare refugee camps with a ‘disciplinary institution’, as Foucault described in his study, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1995). We learned from Harrell-Bond that the dependency of refugee camp residents is not imminent, but becomes a reality over time. As Foucault states, delinquents are nothing more than a product of prison life (Foucault 1995: 256). Similarly, refugee camps seem to turn refugees into both helpless victims and passive recipients, depending on relief agencies (Harrell-Bond 1986: 283). This approach is debated by scholars, as this institutional labelling serves to confine people’s agency and fails to recognize camp residents’ resourceful ways of dealing within their given constraints (Kibreab 1993), their own economic initiatives and activities (Brees 2008, 2009) and the relevance of the transnational network refugees are engaged in (Horst 2008). Added to this claim, we also learned from Arendt and Giddens that, even in total institutions, powerless situations are difficult to imagine, not least because the powerful depend on the cooperation of the controlled or ruled (Arendt 1970: 51, 1986: 312; Giddens 1988: 64ff.). A further concept that is often referred to is Foucault’s (1997) biopolitics. With this concept, Foucault both presents types of powers that go beyond discipline and punishment and describes the productive process of the ongoing inclusion of the natural life of human beings in the mechanisms and calculations of power (Agamben 2002: 127). As already noted, it has been argued that refugee camps are easily accessible to technical and bureaucratic interventions and social control (Malkki 1989: 311, 1995: 234–235), meaning that their residents become victims created and produced through the modern techniques of relief agencies (Hyndman 2000: 144; Turner 2006: 47). Scholars then highlight the camp as a disciplinary and ordering space, and conceive camps as a governmental technology and spatial containment (Malkki 1995; Hyndman 2000). Turner, for example, based on his ethnographic study of Lukole refugee camp in north-western Tanzania, perceives the humanitarian interventions in refugee camps ‘as a specific art of governing that links to ... biopolitics’ (2001: 7). Biopolitics operate, for example, through the self-government approach of internalizing Western norms and values (Turner 2006). But, as stated earlier, there is much empirically based research showing that camp sovereignty and power in camp are plural and layered, and not only in the hands of aid agency (or state) actors. Turner also observes the limits of sovereign power and argues that sovereignty is multi-layered and contested: The refugee themselves seek to maneuver in this temporary space, thus creating pockets of sovereign power outside the reach of either the camp commandant’s restrictions or UNHCR’s benevolent control. Although they are positioned as bare life by the Tanzanian state, they are not paralysed. And, likewise, as much as the biopolitics of UNHCR attempts to create moral apolitical beings, it never succeeds and history and politics strike back (Turner 2005: 313–314). This article is based on the above-mentioned research results, but goes further by both emphasizing Foucault’s understanding of power being locally achieved and, in turn, combining this with a microscopic analysis of social (inter)actions, situations and events. In particular, Foucault suggests that power is not binary, identifiable solely with the state, institutions or an apparatus on the one hand and the oppressed on the other hand (Foucault 1977/2014: 95). Rather, on his understanding, power is not a property that institutions (or states or organizations) possess; rather, it pervasively circulates and emanates. Notably, Foucault underscored not only the complexity and fragmented character of power, which has been discussed by scholars in refugee studies, but also how power emerges from local arenas of concrete action and practices (Foucault 1977/2014: 94). This article looks precisely at these local arenas of action and practices where a form of control and discipline is produced and reproduced. Foucault took power to be intertwined with micro processes of social life and thus a phenomenon that emerges within concrete local transactions (Foucault 1977/2014: 93–102). Based on this framework, Foucault’s programme can be linked to research that highlights microscopic analysis of social interactions (Knorr-Cetina 1981: 22). For power, as such, is perceived not as an omnipresent feature determining social life, but rather as a result of very concrete social interactions. Practices and Social Orders: Ethnomethodological Perspectives This article highlights aspects of micro powers and forms of discipline that are locally accomplished among camp residents. Using the notion of the local accomplishment of order, I want to accentuate an understanding of camp structures and orders as a joint accomplishment of members involved as a matter of course in their practical production. This is an ethnomethodologically informed approach (Garfinkel 1970; Lynch 2007) that allows bringing a new point of view to the discourses regarding the social orders of refugee camps. The research approach focusing specifically on people’s practices, events and situations differs from a structure- and agency-centred or individual mind-oriented research approach. The empirical grounded and situated approach does not understand camps via the discourses surrounding it (Soguk 1999), the social constructions of state practices, the governing techniques of relief agency (Hyndman 2000; Inhetveen 2010: 119ff.) or as the subjective narrations or perceptions of camp residents (Turner 2004: 228; Inhetveen 2010: 102ff.). Rather, this article investigates people’s methods and practices for making their surroundings reasonable and understandable. This allows us to locate the origins of scientific considerations among the ordinary world of people and their dealings and practices in everyday (camp) life (de Certeau 1980). In terms of methodology and theory, this means that this approach follows a methodological situationalism, taking social order to be realized in the very moment of social events (Knorr-Cetina 1981: 15). Methodological situationalism contrasts with methodological collectivism where collectives, internalized norms and moral obligations are the main mechanism of establishing social order. Methodological situationalism also contrasts with methodological individualism, where, for example, individual knowledge creates social order (cf. Knorr-Cetina 1981). The strength and potential of this approach for research in the context of refugee camps was developed during an ethnography conducted in Bhutanese refugee camps in Thailand (Bochmann 2010). Following an ethnomethodologically informed ethnographic research agenda5 requires living for an extended time in a refugee camp, learning the residents’ language, participating in, observing and registering ‘naturally’ occurring interactions, social practices and events, and producing ethnographic field notes and audio-visual recordings.6 This study followed precisely this research agenda. In short, I worked as a teacher and volunteer for over a year in Burmese refugee camps, between 2011 and 2014, and manufactured a huge data corpus for this ethnography. My data corpus consists of more than 30 hours of recordings of naturally occurring situations (plus respective transcripts), countless observation protocols and field notes, informal and formal interviews, as well as a huge collection of documents. The specific and detailed analysis of events, social practices and situations introduced in the following part lays in the tradition of ethnomethodology, but is also influenced by Max Gluckman and the Manchester school. Gluckman avoided a holistic understanding of the social and instead demanded a systematic limitation and methodical focus on specific events, in order to better grasp social complexities. Gluckman and the Manchester school argue that, if researchers do not limit observations systematically and purposely, and instead claim to see everything, then this results in methodically careless work (Evens and Handelman 2006). Only the ethnographically extreme detailed and thorough presentation of individual events or cases enables the exposer of the underlying macro principles of the social situation. In his book about Modern Zululand (1968), Gluckman argues that, from detailed descriptions of events, the researcher ‘abstracts the social structure, relationships and institutions, etc., of that society’ (1968: 2). From this perspective, the meticulous study of micro dynamics in events and situations enables the researcher to gain knowledge regarding the greater social context, such as macro-historical processes (Kapferer 2005: 93). Mitchell and others who developed situational analysis further stressed how, through such a perspective, events and situation function solely as an illustration of macro processes despite the effort of the Manchester school to the contrary (Mitchell 2006; Kapferer 2010: 12). Ethnomethodological approaches would agree with this critique. Therefore, they approach the greater context or ‘macro phenomena’ only when they are an integral part of the social situation, and observable within people’s practices. From this perspective, macro structures are not something researches acquire access to through a detailed analysis; rather, participants of the situations have to demonstrate and make these macro structures relevant and relate to this in public. The greater context of the situation or event is relevant for the analysis and for researchers only when participants of the situation refer to it (Sacks 1995; Schegloff 1997). In this way, this approach is very limiting and methodically very strict. But there are good ethnomethodological reasons for this. The epistemological interest aims to capture the mechanisms that constitute structures or (macro) phenomena, and not the results and their consequences themselves (Rawls 2001; Hirschauer 2014). To gain better access to knowledge regarding how structures and social orders are produced, such as explained in the following, we have to accept such a methodological limitation. This approach enables us to demystify fixed camp structures or broader structural conditions, and aims to reconstruct how camp structures are actually produced and are coming off: namely in people’s practices that create micro structures that are part of creating camp orders. But let us have a look at the empirical cases. The Local Production of a Disciplinary Institution The aid-delivery chain is long. The empirical part introduced here focuses solely on the practical delivery among camp residents, specifically on the complex practices carried out before and behind the scale during the event where rice rations are distributed. In Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, section staff who are camp residents themselves organize the distribution.7 Aid agency staff members are rarely present, especially not during the rainy seasons, where access to the camp is difficult.8 While the aid agency staff members are not bodily present, their documents are present and contribute to the character of the distribution event. Once a month, within a week but on different days, rice, Asia remix,9 beans, oil, fishpaste and charcoal are distributed during the course of the event.10 Distributing times are announced via a loudspeaker (by the respective section staff members), usually one day in advance, but also several times on the day of the supply. What surprised me most while observing more than 20 of such distribution events was that there were hardly any conflicts and ruptures during the event. The events were very well structured. In the following, it is shown how all residents contribute in collaboration to the well-structured event and how they make the event reliable and highly structured. Not only the section staff members who organize the event, but also all other participants of the event, including ordinary camp residents, take part in establishing these structures. Becoming part of the distribution ordering is locally accomplished through observations by rice collectors (ordinary residents) and the practices of the administrators (section staff members) and it usually takes some time. Rice collectors arrive at the store and first need to register with the admin before they are then called to enter the rice zone. The table on the left side of Figure 1 illustrates this. The drawing also shows how participants of the event are able to go anywhere and, due to that, are able to observe the whole procedure, including the admin’s registrations into the documents. This is an important aspect of creating this public bureaucracy, since it enables the participants to observe the goings-on. It makes the event public and enables the establishment of social discipline. This is already observable when looking at the proceedings before people enter the rice zone: Admins are recognizable by their spatial positioning (usually in front of a table) as well as the objects they have in their hand, or that are positioned on the table (ration books, pen, and so forth). After recognizing where to submit the ration book, the rice collector hands over her ration book to the admin. With that act, the admin recognizes that the respective rice collector is present and available. Furthermore, he accounts and registers the amount of rice the collector is entitled to receive. It is important to notice is that behind the admins, rice collectors stand and watch what the admins are writing into the documents. After handing over the ration book to the admin, the rice collectors have to wait until their names are called out. In the meantime, the ration book is forwarded from the admin to the two people in the building sitting behind the scale and the rice zone (illustrated on the right hand of the drawing). The waiting time is used by ordinary rice collectors not only to observe what the admin document in the books (by standing behind the two tables), but moreover to watch the arrangements behind and in front of the scale where the exact amount of rice people are entitled to receive is measured. Behind the scale, two admins (section staff) are sitting, and they are responsible for (1) controlling the amount people are entitled to receive. They check the amount of rice that the scale displays. Moreover, a scale inspector is positioned in a way that allows them to check the scale properly. Usually there is a helper next to the scale inspector, and helpers who are with the rice collectors in the rice zone check the scale as well. (2) The two admins are responsible for registering the amount of rice the collector has actually received, in two documents (remember, the admin on the first table accounts the amount people are entitled to receive, and documents this in the ration book). Two documents are relevant at the second table: the ration book, which in this situation primarily belongs to individual households, and the record, which primarily belongs to the statistic system of the humanitarian system. As noted, also behind these two admins are people watching what they document, similar to the situation of the first admin described earlier. Again, the documentation is made public because it is observable, and in this way made transparent to ordinary rice collectors. In addition, (3) the admins have to call out loudly to the people who are waiting in line to collect the rice. This call allows collectors to enter the rice zone (the bigger rectangle at the right side of the drawing). Furthermore, the admins call out the amount the rice collector is allowed to receive, which again everyone nearby can hear. In this way, not only the name and the presence of the particular rice collector is made public, but also the amount the rice collector (including his household) is entitled to receive. The sequences demonstrate how participants of the event check the work of the admins and are allowed to stand behind them, looking at their process of documentation. The documentation is under public surveillance. The following scenery shows that not only the documentation processes made public and observable to everyone, but also the actions in and around the rice zone. After the call by the admin, the practices of the rice collectors consist of: going into the rice zone, picking up the rice from the floor, filling the rice sack with the correct amount of rice, putting the rice sack on the scale, casting a glance at the scale and then leaving the area with the rice sack(s). The following protocol tries to capture these sceneries: The admins who update the ration books are positioned behind the scale inspectors. They call the rice collectors’ name and the amount of rice she receives. She enters the rice zone and starts to put rice with her hand in one sack. Three male helpers and a female rice collector are in the rice zone. The helpers help her and fill another sack with rice. The first sack is on the scale. Helper 1 puts some rice using a small metal box in the sack. A second later he takes the rice out of the rice sack because the scale shows that the sack weighs more than it should. The scale inspector moves his hands. Similarly to helper 1, helper 2 positions his body in a way so that he is perfectly able to see the display on the scale. The female rice collector watches the scale display while filling another sack with rice. The scale inspector also keeps a concentrated eye on the needle of the scale. Then, without speaking, in the same moment many things happen simultaneously. Helper 1 takes the last amount of rice out of the sack. When this ephemeral moment has passed, after the scale has shown the exact and correct amount of rice, the rice collector turns her eyes back to her practice of filling the rice sack. At the same time, helper 2 turns his eyes and his body away from the scale and reverts to a sitting position. Altogether, five people look at the scale, stop almost at the same moment doing this and then get on with other activities. In the meantime, in the same situation, two women (outside of the rice zone) position their body in a way so that they are able to both see the scale and observe the scene. The scale inspector repositions the scale, and helper 2 helps him without being asked. The female rice collector puts the next sack in position and waits for helper 1 who then puts the rice sack on the scale. Helper 1 again needs to fill the sack with rice and the woman steps next to the scale in order to prop the sack open. The scale inspector’s gaze is again focused on the needle of the scale. A man enters the warehouse, and one more woman positions herself in the door. She keeps an eye on the scale, together with the woman next to her. Simultaneously, the woman sitting left of the scale, a little way off, focuses her eyes on the scale. More people enter the warehouse. One person leaves. Again, there is too much in the rice sack, so the scale inspector himself stands up and takes some rice out of the sack with his own hands. During this process, seven people gaze at the needle of the scale. The inspector squats in order to the see the scale display properly. During the procedure, helper 4, who is sitting next to the scale inspector, laughs,12 and the scale inspector says: put more in.13 Again, for a brief moment, many people glance briefly at the display, and then in the next moment all of them seem to be involved in other actions (the helpers start chatting, the woman near the entrance goes somewhere else, and the scale inspector looks somewhere else). After the fleeting moment when the amount of the rice sack is displayed correctly has passed, the rice sack is put aside. The whole procedure is done almost without verbal interaction.14 The scale, together with rice bags, creates a boundary—a space that hinders rice corns from being spilled all over the place (visualized in the drawing as the big quarter). These markers delineate an enclosed section that holds the spread-out rice, restricting people from entering this area without legitimate purpose (which differs from the practices carried out outside of this area). Only recognized helpers and the people who are called are allowed to enter the rice zone. This makes it possible to have oversight of the situation regardless of how crowded the store is during the event. Entering the organized, ‘empty’ but public observable rice zone is an important moment in regard to making the procedure public and transparent. It is the occasion during which the people in the room are able to observe the rice collector and the scale. All participants are able to be both observers and observed. The spatial layout of the setting, the arrangement of objects (rice sacks, the scale, etc.) and bodies, and the open door and walkways allow participants (section staff members and ordinary residents) to observe the procedures in the rice zone. The manner of handling the scale, together with the rice sacks and the rice zone, is relevant for making the public distribution possible: the scale is positioned in such a way that people who enter the distribution hall are able to see the display on the scale immediately. Not only are the people in charge of the distribution procedure able to see the display on the scale, but participants of the whole event have the chance to see the display of the scale. The scale can be checked from both the front and the back.15 I was able to observe the precise moment when people simultaneously glanced at the display on the scale in concert with each other many times. No grain of rice leaves this zone without being observed by the participants of the event, including section staff members as well as ordinary residents. It is important to notice here that the long periods of waiting before entering the rice zone explicated beforehand enables participants to have time for these observations. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide A minimalistic drawing of the distribution event, own illustration.11 Figure 1 View largeDownload slide A minimalistic drawing of the distribution event, own illustration.11 Another characteristic feature of the procedure is that most of the communication is done non-verbally.16 During the event, participants do not try to negotiate the amount of rice they are entitled to receive. The calling of names and the amount of rice people receive are verbally communicated and audible to all participants. The ration book and especially the scale has the last word regarding how much people actually receive. The use of the public scale is an instrument that makes the amount of rice that the collector is entitled to receive appear accountable and rational. Once in a while, the scale inspector puts the scale back into a proper position so that an exact display of the scale is possible. This practice re-emphasizes his position and shows everyone (the ‘public’) that his actions and behaviour are absolutely focused on the accuracy and meticulousness of the scale. The scale is a controlling instrument, controlled by participants. This is, notably, observable to everyone and there is also a mutual expectation that everyone has agreed on this procedure. In sum, the very moment of glancing at the display on the scale in concert with each other makes this procedure not only public, but also accountable, rational and systematic (based on physical standards). The meticulous gaze practised not only by the person in charge (the scale inspector and admins), but also other people maintains this as a transparent but also a public, controlled procedure. These accomplishments additionally make equal treatment of camp residents continuously visible. During the event, not only documents, but also the artefacts and the section staff members, as well as ordinary camp residents, are under public surveillance. All these practices make the rice zone become an area that forces people to behave in relatively restricted ways. The practices in the rice zone are carried out in an exact sequential order, usually by one rice collector as well as selected helpers. Subsequently, I want to draw attention to another scene, where it can be seen how people collaboratively reminded each other of the sequential and strict order of the event. In this case, the public surveillance is constituted by communicative acts. The second scene I would like to introduce17 was recorded and observed at another store, where a male rice collector positioned himself in the rice zone, three female section staff resided at the boundary of the rice zone and two female admins controlled the scale and documented the amount people received. In the following scene, the changeover from one rice collector who finished the collection of rice to another rice collector is observable: While the male rice collector fills his rice sack, the admin calls out loudly for the next rice collector to enter the rice zone. In the meantime an ordinary rice collector reminds the male rice collector: you should bring the rice sack with you at the same time.18 The female rice collector who was called by the admin then arrives with her child. The woman enters the zone but a helper makes a gesture with her arm and hinders the child from entering with her. The child (pre-school age) reacts immediately and does not enter the rice zone, instead walking along the boundary that is built of rice sacks. The female rice collector starts to fill her sack with rice. The male rice collector fills the sack together with helper 3. Again in unison, everyone looks at the scale and inspects the correct amount of rice. The male rice collector puts more rice into the sack. He wants to put still more in but the scale inspector stops him with her words: finished, finished (weli, weli). He checks the scale again and puts his rice sack on the boundary of the rice zone. Someone from outside comes and helps him carry the rice sacks. He almost leaves the rice zone but is again called by the admin: here, take your ration ticket! (1.0) after you take the rice, take your ration ticket.19 The rice collector steps on the rice sack boundary, closes one of the rice sacks and talks to a man standing outside the zone ignoring the comment of the admin. Admin 1 reminds the rice collector again and points with her pen (five times) to his ration book and then says: take your ticket20 in a very strict tone. The two men are still engaged in the task of closing the sacks. Finally, the man picks up his ration book and is leaving the scene with his friend. In the meantime the child (who attempted to enter the rice zone as well) has walked along the ‘rice fence’ and then tries to sneak in from another side. But helper 2 observes the child. The child plays a little with the rice, still placed at the boundary. Then the child steps in the rice zone and is not hindered by anyone, but still goes back to the boundary. The child yet again steps in the rice zone and receives a strict look from helper 2, alongside some warning words. I want to draw your attention to two aspects of the scene. First, the male rice collector is reminded again and again by both section staff and ordinary rice collectors to behave according to the proper procedure of the ration distribution. And, second, the child who is prevented from entering the rice zone is reminded of the particular rules of the rice zone. The second scene shows how the well-structured and rigid sequential order is maintained, for example, by calling attention to the upcoming sequence. The people in attendance show each other how to maintain this strict order. No other practices are allowed (such as the chatting between the two men). A ration book needs to go with the particular person in order to obey the procedure. Thus, a basic procedure might be seen as a mutual integration or incorporation of those present into the bureaucratic course of events, as people support each other in order to integrate themselves and their practices into this procedure. Demands by the admin do help to do that, but it is also the case that ordinary rice collectors urge each other to stay integrated in this process (as the call from another ordinary resident shows). Apart from that, the rational and formal character of this procedure allows people to behave in a different manner. Outside of this particular institution, a woman giving a strict order to men in public is not usual. The child breaks the rule (by entering the rice zone) and section staff members use rules by referring to them several times. The child needs to learn that the rice zone is an enclosed space, restricting people from entering this area without legitimate purpose. Thus, communicative acts help to teach the rules and to stay integrated in the well-structured procedures. The two sceneries allow us to make the following analytical abstractions. The event is the performance of a reasonable and logical procedure according to locally generated regularities (such as gaze exchange). The investigative stance (Zimmerman 1969: 332), focusing on obeying bureaucratic rules, is made visible to everyone. In particular, the rice zone is reserved for both certain persons (who were called in advance) and certain restricted practices (filling the rice sack, putting the rice on the scale). The rice zone is established as a total zone of discipline accomplished in collaboration between section staff members and ordinary rice collectors (it is not an entertainment zone for children). In this way, the rice zone comes close to what Foucault described as the panopticon (Foucault 1995: 191) or a disciplinary institution. However, the case here shows that this institution is established in situational collaboration among all participants of the distribution event. This panopticon here is not produced by an aid agency or other institutions: it is a production and reproduction that continuously needs to be achieved by the community itself in collaboration with the objects and the spatial layout, which could be changed easily. Performing the distribution in such a way makes the event not only accountable, disciplinary and rational, but also ‘relaxed’, since there is a high degree of predictability in regard to the goings-on. I observed no major conflicts during the distributions. The rigid, sequential and well-structured order might hinder or prevent anyone from questioning the procedures. This means that this characteristic distribution event is based on uncertainties and mistrust, since otherwise these specific practices would not be necessary. On the one hand, participants make visible to each other both that no one is cheating and that they are competent enough to not be cheated. On the other hand, the equal treatment is being performed. This turns the distribution into a local, situational, public examination. There is a public examination of the (i) documents, (ii) the artefacts and (iii) the people. (i) The documents are investigated and updated twice during the whole procedure, and document that the person is entitled to receive the benefits. These documentations are observable by every participant of the event. (ii) The artefacts are checked through a collaborative gaze towards the weight of the rice sack on the scale, and make visible that this is the exact amount of rice that the person is entitled to receive. (iii) Moreover, people undergo a public examination. People enter the rice zone and, with this, others legitimize them (and the household) as a registered and accepted section as well as camp member. Thus, when entering this public bureaucratic procedure, collectors are immediately introduced and exposed in a miniature examination that has to do with ratifying their status as an acknowledged section member who is entitled to the benefits and the demonstration of ‘we are not cheating’. And this is done every month not by aid agency staff members, but rather via collaborative practices among camp residents. These procedures may not eliminate nepotism and favouritism, but the practices of the event make it at least appear that this is so. The very interesting point here is that these micro structures are made by the community themselves in collaboration. In this sense, the event is somewhat like a disciplinary institution, yet made by the community themselves. The case shows how power emerges from local arenas of concrete action and practices where micro structures (in this case forms of control and discipline) are produced and reproduced by the community itself. This brings us to the second case where camp residents’ wrong documentations during the distribution event are made public, transparent and reliable. Also, in this case, the community disciplines itself with a public camp secret for good organizational reasons. Public Camp Secrets: Good Organizational Reasons for Wrong Documentations The point I want to make in the following section stems from the audio-visual data I collected during a section meeting during which the good organizational reasons for wrong documentations were made reasonable, transparent and public. The section meeting is another important event that takes place at the store as well. During this event, section members come together to gather information, usually from the section leader (who is elected by section members) or other section staff members, regarding both relief organization work and decisions and community work. The following considerations explain two aspects all in one breath and are based on a section leader’s speech during the meeting. He explains extensively (for over an hour) and in detail that, first, the perpetuation of the ‘section order’ is a section members’ problem and, second, he demonstrates the power of the section by presenting a solution to the established member’s problem. He explains that, in order to keep the section system going, it is necessary to not record absent section members on both the list and the ration books, but instead to use these rations (‘left overs’) for the maintenance of the section administration. The background of this is that the leading aid agency had changed the distribution rules to the disadvantage of camp residents.21 He announces: I will mention about it in both now: the ration books and the account that we have to submit to them. So, we can use the extra rations for the need of our section. This is how I am going to do it now. Regarding to that issue, I want to say that those who are able to be present will get the same amount of ration as usual.22 I am not able to present his argument in detail. But, in short: the work of section staff depends on the remainders of the rations (produced by absent members) because section staff members do not have enough money to cover the costs of maintaining section structures and necessary community work (e.g. repairing schools and streets, taking care of the cemetery, giving shelter and food to new arrivals). So both the work of the section staff and the maintenance of the section as a sufficient administrative unit depend, according to the section leader, on absent section members and wrongly documented ration books. To communicate this process is highly relevant to the section leader because ordinary people might think that the section staff are taking the remainders for their own use (nepotism). The section leader puts a lot of effort into explaining this to the people in public in order to make the wrongly documented ration book reasonable and transparent. During the meeting, ordinary residents agreed on his presented solution. This again demonstrates a public procedure regarding the distribution work and further shows how relevant the transparency of the wrong documentation is to the section leader and the stability orders of the section. It is a public secret because the section community knows about it (since this prevents mistrust towards section staff members) but the aid agency is not allowed to know about these (public known) concrete actions of wrong documentations. Refugee representatives not only pass on commands and rules from others, but also have the power to communicate aid agency rules in specific ways. In this case, the section leader is even able to refuse certain rules laid down by aid agencies and instead establish new, contrary rules that nonetheless have to be kept as public secrets. The ability to establish such a public secret makes the power of all section residents visible. Sharing a secret establishes unity and solidarity among the adept. But the unity and the shared solidarity among section residents in turn make it possible for the section leader to present the solution-oriented approach that constitutes such secrets: publicly cheating the aid agency for good organizational reasons. In this way, the power of the section is both maintained and accomplished. The case shows how refugee representatives in collaboration with ordinary camp residents are successful in using their power to practically create, maintain and change administrative structures for the good of the maintenance of the section and the camp, which contrasts with the claims of some refugee studies—namely that no refugees wield ‘real’ power. Moreover, the case shows that micro structures established by section staff members in collaboration with ordinary residents do relate to the official camp order (and aid agency rules) but are nonetheless locally transformed for good organizational reasons. Concluding Remarks: Camp Orders and the Power of Micro Structures What basic insight do we gain regarding refugee camp orders with these praxeological, ethnomethodologically informed research findings? The empirical findings demonstrate that such an approach enables us to study social phenomena such as power, social institutions and human activity in more detail and with increased sensitivity. With such an ethnomethodological understanding, refugee camp order and power relations become an array of practical, situational and self-organized phenomena. A detailed ethnographic participant observation process enables us to better grasp the many situationally achieved social orders within camps, acknowledging and respecting the complexities of social orders in such spaces, as well as the multiple actors that can be involved in creating these orders. The methodological understanding accepts theoretically but also in terms of methods that there is not one overarching camp order that could be said to determine camp life. The article highlighted the potential to combine ethnomethodological perspectives with Foucault’s considerations regarding his conception of power in particular. For Foucault, power is the product of all players and not simply a top-down mechanism. Foucault argued that power is part of micro processes of social life and a phenomenon that emerged within concrete local transactions (Foucault 1977/2014: 93–102). Studies on camps may emphasize this perspective in more detail to gain better access to the way camp structures are created and maintained. Camps and power relations within camps appear, then, not as a result of structures, but as a locally accomplished process, visible through the various practices that make up these structures. The concern with events, situations and microscopic analysis is not only an issue that ethnomethodological studies celebrate. Other scholars, in particular those inspired by the Manchester school, also take the event as central to research analysis. The event is taken as singularity where critical dimensions can be conceived as opening to new potentialities in the formation of social realities or what post-structuralists, especially Deleuzian persuasion (see Deleuze 2004; Deleuze and Guattari 1987), would describe as the continual becoming of the social as a complex emerging and diversifying multiplicity that is enduringly open and not constrained within some kind of organized, interrelated totality of parts, either as real (existent), imagined, modelled, or projected (Kapferer 2010: 2). Moreover, the empirical findings presented here provide evidence towards the argument that camp residents make a meaningful contribution to the accomplishment of camp orders. Scholars such as Kibreab (1993, 2004), Horst (2008) and McConnachie (2014) have demonstrated this from different angles as well. The ration distribution system introduced here, which we usually assume to be in the hands of aid agencies, demonstrates that camp residents (ordinary rice collectors as well as section staff members) are actively involved in creating camp structures. These micro structures relate to official camp structures but are adopted to the local situation. These local micro structures are part of the social order of the camps and need to be both acknowledged and also integrated into theoretical considerations regarding refugee camps. It has been shown empirically that these orders are not solely the product of the (non)regulations of aid agencies or state actors. One might argue that the case of Burmese refugee camps in Thailand differs from other camp environments due to the strong involvement of camp residents and their organizations in governing these camps. At the same time, and also in Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, where refugees are involved in decision-making processes, it is the aid agency that has power over the distributions in terms of what kind of products are delivered, and who gets how much. Still, in this case, camp residents are in charge of the final aid delivery and are able to change aid agency rules in order to maintain the administration of their public section life. But the argument I want to make, and I hope my empirical findings also demonstrate this, is that, irrespective of how much humanitarian organizations or other actors are involved, such micro-orders need to be accomplished in any camp context no matter how institutionalized and regulated they are. In one way or another, people need to respond to the ‘camp regime’ because of the ‘impossible task of “repairing” the essential incompleteness of any set of instructions no matter how carefully or elaborately written they might be’ (Garfinkel 1967: 30). In this way, camp residents or refugees have agency not only in terms of representing their own self-interest, but also in being actively involved in accomplishing social orders and micro structures. The detailed investigation of events does not illustrate macro orders, but rather shows how social orders are accomplished—and that macro orders are made by these micro structures even though they are not visible when viewed from macro perspectives. The case demonstrates the power of micro structures in contexts of encampment and human (im)mobilities. The association of these micro structures makes the camp order. And they provide stability and intelligibility to the camp community that social theory tends to describe as temporary and anomalous. Footnotes 1. In the following, the term ‘camp resident’ rather than ‘refugee’ is used because not everyone who is entitled to get rations and lives in the camp has a UN registration and is a politically recognized refugee of the national government and UNHCR. The Royal Thai Government (RTG) does not use the term ‘refugee’, rather ‘displaced person’ and also did not sign the UN Refugee Convention. To become a refugee in Thailand is a political decision made by the RTG rather than a legal category people deserve because of a well-founded fear on the grounds of the Refugee Convention. The distinction between (irregular) migrants and refugees in Thailand is difficult to draw. 2. Praxeology or practice theory includes considerations from various authors such as Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, Bruno Latour, Erving Goffman, Norbert Elias and Michel Foucault, as well as philosophical thinkers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Charles Taylor (Schatzki et al. 2001; Schmidt 2012). Also, ethnomethodology is considered to be part of the practice theory ‘family’. Hence, when scholars talk about praxeological perspectives, they need to clarify what kind of perspective they refer to. But practice theory scholars share something in common such as that the materiality of practices producing social order, the strong linkage between empirical findings, and theory and observation as a main method (Schmidt 2012). 3. This strongly differs from other refugee camp contexts. The mandate of UNHCR is limited. The Thai Royal Government did not involve UNHCR before 2007 but instead a non-governmental organization called TBC (Thai Border Consortium). TBC is an umbrella organization including 10 non-governmental organizations that provide support for refugees along the Thai–Burma border. The name was changed in 2013 from Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) to The Border Consortium (TBC). 4. Also Goffman’s concept of ‘total institutions’ (1962) has been utilized in order to identify authoritarian structures, regulations and control inside a refugee camp (Baumann 2002; Schmidt 2003: 6). This theoretical conception makes us aware of how powerful such enclosed institutions can become and determine people’s life. Seen from this perspective, the refugee camp appears to be an institution where staff members permanently regulate, control and observe its residents. We gain insights regarding the depersonalization and equalizing processes that are characteristic of total institutions and that are also identified in refugee camps (Hitchcox 1990: 150). While Baumann understands the refugee camp as an enclosed micro world in a way that comes close to Goffman’s total institution (2002: 347), Inhetveen claims that equating a refugee camp with a ‘total institution’ is inappropriate because everyday life is both hardly planned to the last detail and barely affected by administrative guidelines (2010: 382). Apart from particular situations, everyday life in a refugee camp is not institutionally and central regulated (Inhetveen 2010: 383). 5. Ethnomethodological studies do not draw a sharp distinction between theory, methodology and methods; rather, they emphasize the strong interlinkages. 6. The claim that it is possible to collect ‘natural occurring data’ is of course controversially discussed (cf. Speer 2002). 7. Even though section staff who are camp residents do get incentives from the leading aid agency, they do not see themselves as aid agency staff members; neither do other camp residents perceive them as aid agency staff members, but rather as representatives of the particular section. Some section staff members, such as the section leader as well as the security leader, are also elected by ordinary section residents. 8. The leading aid agency reports that they check two warehouses per camp each month in order to evaluate whether warehouses meet the guidelines based on the ‘World Food Programme’ (TBBC Report 2012: 136), though this was practically not observable. 9. Asia remix is a mix of different flowers. 10. Salt is also distributed (every two months) as well as soap (also every two months). The distribution of bamboo is a different case, since to receive bamboo and leaves for a roof depends on the condition of the house and the decision whether people are to receive bamboo or not is locally negotiated between ordinary camp residents and section staff. 11. This illustration is inspired by Livingston (1987). 12. Video, DSCF 4648, minute 05:10. 13. ‘Naturally’ occurring talk is emphasized in italics. 14. Video, DSCF 4648, minute 05:30. 15. Scale could be positioned somewhere else, such as at the wall, so that the scale inspector is able to overview the warehouse and does not have people behind his back. In addition, people are allowed and do enter the distribution hall (even me with a camera). This could be also restricted to the people who are called and allowed to enter the rice zone. 16. This does not mean that there is silence during the procedure. People do talk to each other but, as noted, during the procedure of entering the rice zone, for example, verbal communication is very limited. 17. Video, DSCF 4666, minutes 12:35–14:05. 18. Translation from a Transcript from a Video, DSCF 4666, line 78. 19. Translation from a Transcript from a Video, DCSF 4666, lines 85–89. 20. Translation from a Transcription from a Video, DSCF 4666, line 93. 21. There are two documents that are relevant elements of the event that not only keep the distribution procedure going, but also make the procedure accountable, rational and bureaucratic. These are the ration book and the record. Both documents are delivered by the aid agency, and state some of the rules as well as how much a household gets. The ration book is a document that belongs to an individual household. On each page, the amount of rations the household is entitled to receive in one month is stated. 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Journal of Refugee Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 23, 2018
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