Dr Karen Schouw Iversen BA(Hons), MSc, PhD

Dr Karen Iversen

International Development Department
Teaching Fellow in Development Cooperation

Contact details

Department of International Development
School of Government
Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Karen Schouw Iversen joined the University of Birmingham as a Teaching Fellow in Development Cooperation in 2021. She is the convenor of Understanding Development Assistance, and the co-convenor of Development Cooperation Beyond Aid.

Prior to coming to the University of Birmingham, Karen completed her PhD in Development Studies at SOAS, University of London. Her research examines activism related to humanitarian aid provisions in Colombia, where civil war has left millions of people internally displaced.

Karen 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.

ORC Profile


  • PhD in Development Studies 2021, SOAS, University of London
  • MSc in Conflict Studies 2016, The London School of Economics and Political Science
  • BA (Hons) in Swahili and Development Studies 2015, SOAs, University of London


Karen’s teaching in the department focuses on development assistance and aid, with a particular emphasis on the power relations that aid provisions entail, as well as on questions related to aid and citizenship.

Before coming to Birmingham, Karen worked as a Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, where she convened and contributed to several modules on migration, with a focus on forced migration.

Her research explores humanitarian aid provisions in the context of Colombia, where the state has taken on the primary responsibility for assisting the millions of people displaced due to the country’s civil war. She is interested in the complex relationship between humanitarian assistance, power, and resistance, and adopts a Foucauldian approach to studying aid.

In 2021, Karen completed her thesis in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS. Entitled Humanitarian Activist Citizens: Desplazado Protests and State Humanitarianism in Bogotá, Colombia, the thesis examined how relations between the Colombian state and people displaced by conflict have been shaped by the state-led provision of humanitarian assistance to them. It argued that such humanitarian assistance has opened new opportunities for activism and resistance amongst the displaced, allowing them to emerge as what she calls ‘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.


  • Understanding Development Assistance
  • Development Cooperation Beyond Aid 


Research interests

  • Resistance in contexts of humanitarian assistance
  • Linkages between migrant resistance and development
  • Forced displacement and citizenship in Colombia


Schouw Iversen, K. (2022) ‘Participation as Confrontation: Resistance Within and Outside the Mesas de Participación Established for IDPs in Colombia’, Journal of Refugee Studies. doi: 10.1093/jrs/feac010.

Schouw Iversen, K. (2021) ‘Displacement, time and resistance: The role of waiting in facilitating occupations led by internally displaced persons in Colombia’, Time & Society. doi: 10.1177/0961463X211052838.

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