Sampling on the dependent variable: An Achille's heel of research on displacement?

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Using Portes’ critique of research that ‘samples on the dependent variable’, this article identifies three particularly widespread and inter-related examples of this tendency within research on displacement, and particularly within the growing field of literature on refugee self-reliance. The first concerns the tendency to sample those in possession of particular labels; the second to sample those who inhabit specific spaces; and the third to sample those who exhibit certain forms of vulnerability. The article introduces the stories of displaced Eritreans in the Gulf States to show how these tendencies have resulted in particular sites and experiences of self-reliance being difficult to analyse, and thus systematically overlooked, within refugee studies. It concludes by arguing that categorical, spatial, and vulnerability biases within research on forced migrants can lead to a general confirmation bias that ends up inadvertently narrowing the meaning of key concepts and processes, and obscuring similar actions, including those with more positive outcomes, that may be occurring outside of established ‘host countries’ and under alternative labels.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfeaa123
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Refugee Studies
Early online date24 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Feb 2021


  • sampling
  • refugee studies
  • self-reliance
  • Eritreans
  • gulf states


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