Prof Tom Scott-Smith

Associate Professor of Refugee Studies and Forced Migration

Tom Scott-Smith is Associate Professor of Refugee Studies and Forced Migration, fellow of St Cross College and Course Director for the MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration. He specialises in the ethnographic and historical study of humanitarian relief and its impact on the lives of refugees.

He holds an MPhil and DPhil from the University of Oxford, and was previously Lecturer at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol and Senior Scholar at Lincoln College, Oxford.

Tom's work on humanitarianism has appeared in a number of peer-reviewed scholarly journals, including American EthnologistSocial Studies of Science, Development and ChangeThird World Quarterly, and the Journal of Refugee Studies. His book on the history of humanitarian nutrition, entitled On an Empty Stomach: Two Hundred Years of Hunger Relief, is published by Cornell University Press. 

Before coming to academia, Tom worked as a development practitioner in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Teaching & Supervision
In the media
Promoting understanding of humanitarian nutrition and shelter
Architectures of Displacement
Emergency shelter
Humanitarian nutrition


Tom Scott-Smith is Course Director for the MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. He teaches courses on The Anthropology of Forced Migration; Research Methods in the Study of Forced Migration; and The History and Politics of Humanitarian Aid.

Doctoral supervision

Tom is interested in supervising doctoral research on the history and politics of humanitarian action, the ethnography of humanitarian institutions, the everyday life of aid workers, and the study of technological objects used in emergencies. He has particular expertise in the nutrition and shelter sectors, non-governmental organisations, and the politics of humanitarian principles.

Research Students supervised

Imogen Dobie
Research Student
Maggie Neil
Research Student
Claire Walkey
Research Student

Books and monographs

Scott-Smith, Tom (with Mark E Breeze) (eds) (2020) 'Structures of Protection? Rethinking Refugee Shelter', Berghahn
Scott-Smith, Tom (2020) 'On an Empty Stomach: One Hundred Years of Hunger Relief', Cornell University Press

Journal articles and special issues

Scott-Smith, Tom (2020) 'Building a Bed for the Night: The Parisian “Yellow Bubble” and the Politics of Humanitarian Architecture', Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 11 (3) 317-31
Scott-Smith, Tom (2019) 'Places for People: Architecture, Building, and Humanitarian Innovation', Journal of Humanitarian Affairs 1 (3) 14-22
Scott-Smith, Tom (2018) 'Paradoxes of Resilience: A Review of the World Disasters Report 2016', Development and Change 49 (2) 662-77
Scott-Smith, Tom (ed) (2016) 'Special Issue: Humanitarianism and the Migration Crisis', Refugee Survey Quarterly 35 (2)
Scott-Smith, Tom (2016) 'Humanitarian neophilia: the ‘innovation turn’ and its implications', Third World Quarterly
Scott-Smith, Tom (2016) 'Humanitarian dilemmas in a mobile world', Refugee Survey Quarterly 35 (2) 1-21
Scott-Smith, Tom (2015) 'Beyond the 'raw' and the 'cooked': a history of fortified blended foods', Disasters 39 (s2) s244-60
Scott-Smith, Tom (2015) 'Control and Biopower in Contemporary Humanitarian Aid: The Case of Supplementary Feeding', Journal of Refugee Studies 28 (1) 21-37
Scott-Smith, Tom (2014) 'How projects rise and fall: the lifecycle of a dietary modernisation scheme', Development in Practice 24 (7) 785-96
Scott-Smith, Tom (2013) 'The fetishism of humanitarian objects and the management of malnutrition in emergencies', Third World Quarterly 34 (5) 913-28


Scott-Smith, Tom (2020) 'Places of Partial Protection: Refugee Shelter since 2015.'. In T Scott-Smith and ME Breeze (ed) Structures of Protection? Rethinking Refugee Shelter , Berghahn
Scott-Smith, Tom (2013) 'Insulating the developing classes: ideology and humanitarianism in practice'. In Tina Wallace, et al (eds) Aid, NGOs and the Realities of Women's Lives: A Perfect Storm , Rugby: Practical Action

Other publications

Scott-Smith, Tom (2018) 'A slightly better shelter?', Limn 9
Scott-Smith, Tom (2017) 'The Humanitarian-Architect Divide', Forced Migration Review 55 67-8
13 May, 2021
Tom Scott-Smith explores 'social history of soup' in essay for BBC radio
25 January, 2021
New article by Tom Scott-Smith explores politics of humanitarian architecture
13 November, 2020
'Shelter Without Shelter' wins Best Research Film in AHRC awards
06 November, 2020
Documentary Shelter Without Shelter shortlisted for AHRC film award
01 October, 2020
Tom Scott-Smith awarded Leverhulme Research Fellowship
16 April, 2020
New book by Tom Scott-Smith studies the history of hunger relief
26 March, 2020
Tom Scott-Smith named one of ten new BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinkers
15 November, 2019
New article by Tom Scott-Smith critiques Ikea’s ‘universal’ refugee shelter
14 February, 2018
New article by Tom Scott-Smith reviews World Disasters Report 2016 on Resilience
09 January, 2018
New article by Tom Scott-Smith explores 'stickiness' in humanitarian technologies


24 Nov, 2020
'Tom Scott-Smith on the history of famine relief'. Tom Scott Smith spoke to Helen Carr as part of the Hidden Histories series
Research interests:

Humanitarianism, technology, refugees, nutrition, shelter, NGOs