Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Business


Purpose: The global refugee crisis affects an estimated 32.5 million refugees worldwide. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated budget of USD10 billion in 2022 and 2023 to cover the basic needs of all refugees is only funded at 50-53% from international donors (UNHCR 2023a). This problem of limited resources forces humanitarian aid organisations to make critical decisions about the allocation of funds and services to refugee communities. Thus, the humanitarian aid context is infused with unequal and competing interests since the decisions made can significantly impact the lives of individuals and communities, raising questions of accountability.

This thesis critically examines the Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF) as a calculative practice to allocate UNHCR humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan. In doing so, the thesis explores the power relations embedded in the VAF and the interplay of these relationships to further understand how Syrian refugees use a surrogate to demand accountability.

Theoretical and Methodological approach:This thesis draws on the theory of practice developed by the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu to understand and explain the VAF, its actors, and the corresponding experiences of Syrian refugees. Bourdieu offers a framework to understand how various forms of capital are used in situational fields to access symbolic power. This thesis explores how this symbolic power can be perceived as symbolic violence, especially where the doxa or rules of the game initially achieve compliance and then resistance. This resistance is evident as a field of opinion where the heterodoxic voice of Syrian refugees is heard. Publicly available documents were used to analyse the field of UNHCR humanitarian aid in Jordan using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) thematic analysis, followed by an analysis of Syrian refugee comments on a social media platform using Kozinet”s (2019) netnographic approach.

Findings: The VAF was created with limited engagement of Syrian refugees. The design and development of the VAF established the doxa, which exemplifies and emphasises existing power relations and symbolic capital. While the VAF was legitimised and imposed on Syrian refugees as universal, fair, and reliable, Syrian refugees used the field of opinion offered by social media as a surrogate to question several aspects of the VAF. To demand accountability, Syrian refugees used social media to achieve three functions: signal unprofessional behaviours, question compliance with implicit and explicit standards, and impose informal sanctions on the UNHCR.

The questioning of VAF implementation and the difficulties experienced with compliance exposed several aspects of symbolic violence. Furthermore, rather than promoting empowerment, participation, and a rights-based approach to humanitarian assistance, the VAF as a calculative instrument failed to capture the voice of Syrian refugees' leading to disempowerment and unintended behavioural consequences.

Contributions: First, the thesis contributes to accounting and accountability literature on resource allocation in humanitarian aid contexts. It explores the complexity of accountability relationships by analysing the network of actors who created the VAF. It transcends the traditional focus of the literature on accountability relations underpinned by economic logic by highlighting the significant and influential role of cultural capital. Second, it contributes to the under-researched area of surrogate accountability, demonstrating “social media” as a new form of surrogate that performs multiple functions as a means of empowerment. Third, the thesis contributes to the understanding and application of Bourdieu’s theory of practice by providing new insights into how illusio and symbolic violence function in practice and how calculative practices and accountability relations facilitate modes of domination. Finally, the thesis offers methodological contributions by adopting netnography in an aid context.

Limitations and Future Research: Publicly available documents and social media comments provided both institutional and individual evidence and sentiment. Further research would benefit from access to internal documents and participant interviews to develop an understanding of the role of a surrogate. In addition, the thesis primarily focussed on the accountability relationship within the field of Syrian refugees in Jordan. This field could be expanded to include the role of external partners of the UNHCR to demonstrate the broader influence of powerful institutional donors.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.