My research program begins with the refugee as a central figure of analysis. Refugee displacement is the manifestation of the breakdown of borders and citizenship rights while refugee status, as a legal construct, is delimited by the principle of sovereignty. Refugees’ lives and life chances are inextricably tied to national and global policies, which create or impede access to basic needs, education, rights, and mobility. My research lies at the intersection of these issues and pushes forward debates about states, rights, and theories of international migration. With a particular emphasis on the Middle East, I critique global inequality and the interrelated politics between states. I have employed qualitative methods including ethnography, participant observation, in-depth interviews, and archival research to study societies around the world in Jordan, Syria, Gaza, the United States, Northern Ireland, Australia, and Western Europe.
In my book manuscript, I explore the global system of refugee management through an ethnographic account of refugee hosting in Jordan. Major refugee host states - like Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Uganda, and most recently, Bangladesh - are vital to the contemporary system of refugee management. However, their capacity and willingness to host refugees has received significantly less scholarly attention as compared to their Western counterparts. These states confront the challenges of porous borders and changing demographics. They address refugees’ urgent needs for food and shelter and the long-term challenges of protection, education, unemployment, and the degradation of local infrastructure.
I ask, how does Jordan maintain sovereignty while hosting millions of refugees? To answer this question, I focus on the contemporary Syrian refugee response. I study of the social construction of sovereignty by exploring interactions among Syrian refugees, Jordanian citizens, and government, UN, and INGO officials. Through ethnography and in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted in Arabic and English, I study how these groups interact with one another to bring the practice of sovereignty into being. My methodological approach to the study of sovereignty allows me to theorize about how sovereignty is not only a top-down, state-imposed project, but one that is also shaped by the behaviors of refugees and citizens.