Refuge

Summary

My dissertation project, Up from the Dirt: Racializing Refuge, Rupture, and Repair in Philadelphia, was based upon years of ethnographic observation, interviews, and archival research in Philadelphia among organizations that care for and resettle refugees. My dissertation places care for refugees and other humanitarian migrants in political, economic, and social context with a particular emphasis on broader patterns of racial discrimination and state-sanctioned violence. The project explores the intersection of care and governance in Philadelphia through the lens of displacement, beginning with an ethnographic study of refugees and the institutions in Philadelphia that serve them. I analyze Philadelphia as a place formed through migration and displacement, from successive refugee migrations beginning in the 20th century to other movements, like the Great Migration, that have shaped demographic patterns and social life in the city of Brotherly Love. Drawing from a large, diverse archive that brings news, personal narratives & oral histories, and cultural representations both past and present into conversation with semi-structured interviews and ethnographic participant-observation at multiple sites, my work strives to understand what making refuge looks like and for whom asylum is possible.

My analytic framework draws from literatures about humanitarianism, affect, and the anthropology of the state to understand how refugee resettlement in Philadelphia is inflected with the politics of race, gender, and class. Drawing from feminist theory and queer of color critique, I explore comparative racialization through a framework that recognizes how groups are racialized with respect to one another through competing racial formations at the same time that it accounts for heterogeneity within racial categories. I do so through a particular attentiveness to state bureaucratic processes, from welfare applications to public health management, as they are negotiated by healthcare providers, case workers, and volunteers, not to mention refugees and asylum seekers themselves.

As a Black woman, an immigrant, and a future health care provider, I try to think carefully about the social, political, and economic dynamics that shape care and its unintended consequences. I’m also hopeful that in theorizing displacement and refuge, we can reconsider what justice can and should look like for racialized people. Thinking as such might allow us to imagine a reparative politics that offers new possibilities for the future.

While my dissertation is not currently publicly available, you can read an abstract of the dissertation here. I have also written about my work in other locations, including:

  • A more experimental piece, drawing from my experiences as a volunteer with an asylum clinic: asylum/human: a meditation in 8 parts

  • A research article based on my experiences learning to practice refugee medicine: “(De)Racializing Refugee Medicine.” An invited contribution to a special issue of Science, Technology, and Human Values on “Race as a Ghost Variable in Biomedical Research.”

  • An initial piece I worked on before I started writing my dissertation in earnest for Anthropology News

Back to my work…