This chapter sets out the conceptual framework for the book. A review of existing literature on the economic lives of refugees reveals that few economists have worked on refugees and forced displacement. Despite pioneering interdisciplinary research on refugees’ economic lives, there remains a lack of theory and data to explain variation in economic outcomes for refugees. To fill this gap, the chapter elaborates the concept of ‘refugee economies’, i.e. resource allocation systems relating to the lives of refugees. Drawing upon New Institutional Economics, it argues that while refugees are not necessarily distinctive as people, what distinguishes them in an economic sense is the institutional context of ‘being a refugee’, which leads to a different set of economic constraints and opportunities compared to citizens or other migrants. The chapter suggests what these institutional differences are and how this conceptual framework plays out in the context of the Uganda research that follows.
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