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Civil Society and the Politics of Values: Social services and the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan



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Weise, Madita 


This dissertation analyses how the role of civil society organisations (CSO) in Jordan changed in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis between 2011 and 2019. CSOs are often the most important actors in the immediate aftermath of a crisis providing emergency aid and consolation for communities. However, they are also essential to the ability of a society to weather the medium-term impact of crisis by paving the way for and shaping social values and behavioural change in a country. Thus, crisis acts as an inflection point in which CSOs assume renewed or changed responsibilities. The case of CSOs in Jordan responding to the Syrian forced displacement crisis reveals that the mediation occurred in four ways. First, the CSOs changed their (i) objectives and (ii) their behaviour fostering values of social justice and community service. Second, the CSOs changed their relationship with (iii) the community and (iv) the government mitigating the impacts of the forced displacement crisis.

The research offers implications for the debate of the role of CSOs in the Middle East and how to envision its continued development and progress. It also contributes to the discourse of CSOs as it embeds it in a crisis context. My research design builds on insights from phenomenology and interactionism to hone in on the subjective experience of the Jordanians who helped in the emergency response to the refugee crisis. Therefore, to answer these questions in my dissertation, I conducted interviews with CSO staff and volunteers, and a wider group of Jordanians involved in the response to the influx of Syrian refugees between 2011 and 2019. The text analysis of CSO motivational statements as well as secondary source analysis allowed me to assess the transformation of CSOs during crisis.

The results of my research showed that CSOs change during crises in important ways with implications for understanding the societal trajectories of change. During the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan, CSOs stepped in to provide social services to those in need. Shaped by the experience of working in this crisis harnessed social justice values of CSOs and their staff. These values generated, in a Bourdieusian sense, capital. These forms of capital propelled CSOs in the dynamic crisis context to assume political roles as the arbiter of transformed values of social justice. As a result, CSOs providing social services to Syrian refugees to help, became agents in the politicisation of the transformed values themselves. Thus, based on these findings, ongoing scholarly debates on civil society organisations in the Middle East may further investigate how the evolving role of CSOs impact the dynamics of social change in the region at large and how CSOs themselves evolve because of crisis contexts.





Cohen, Shana


civil society, Forced Displacement, Jordan, Middle East, Refugees


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge