Watson Institute at Brown University
International and Public Affairs

Rawan Arar

Assistant Professor in the Department of Law, Societies, and Justice at the University of Washington
Postdoctoral Fellow in International and Public Affairs, 2018-2019

Areas of Interest: International migration, refugee studies, law, human rights, race and ethnicity, gender, inequality, conflict and post-conflict societies.


Rawan is a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California San Diego, M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Texas, Austin, and B.A. in sociology from the University of Texas, San Antonio. After completing her fellowship at the Watson Institute, Rawan will begin her appointment as an assistant professor at the University of Washington in the Law, Societies, and Justice department. Her scholarship has been published in Annual Review of Sociology, Journal of Middle East Law and Governance, Nations and Nationalism, and Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Rawan has also written for other academic, policy-oriented, and generalist outlets including the Middle East Institute, the Scholars Strategy Network, and the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog.

 Rawan’s research has received generous support from the National Science Foundation; Marye Anne Fox Fellowship; American Center for Oriental Research – Council of American Overseas Research Centers Fellowship (ACOR-CAORC); UCSD Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program; and the Philanthropic Educational Opportunities Scholar Award.



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 in Jordan, Syria, Gaza, the United States, Northern Ireland, Australia, and Western Europe.

 In my dissertation turned 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 humanitarian aid workers, 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.


Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

 Fee, Molly and Rawan Arar. Conditional Acceptance. “What Happens When the United States Stops Taking in Refugees?

 FitzGerald, David and Rawan Arar. 2018. “The Sociology of Refugee Migration.” Annual Review of Sociology 44: 387-406.

 Arar, Rawan. 2017. “The New Grand Compromise: How Syrian Refugees Changed the Stakes in the Global Refugee Assistance Regime.”  Journal of Middle East Law and Governance 9 (3): 298-312.  

 Arar, Rawan. 2017. “International Solidarity and Ethnic Boundaries: Using the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to Strengthen Ethno-National Claims in Northern Ireland.” Nations and Nationalism 23(4): 856-877.

 FitzGerald, David, David Cook Martín, Angela Garcia, and Rawan Arar. 2017. “Can You Become One of Us? The Legal Selection of “Assimilable” Immigrants.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 44(1): 27-47.

 Arar, Rawan. 2016. “How Political Migrant Networks Differ from Those of Economic Migrants: ‘Strategic Anonymity’ Among Iraqi Refugees in Jordan.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42(3): 519-535.

 Panoyan, Lucy, Shuko Lee, Rawan Arar, Hanna E. Abboud, Nedal Arar. 2008. “The Informed Consent Process in Genetic Family Studies.” Genomics, Society and Policy 4(2):11-20.

 Other Publications

 Arar, Rawan. 2017. “Leveraging Sovereignty: The Case of Jordan and the International Refugee Regime” in Refugees and Migration Movements in the Middle East edited by Marc Lynch and Laurie Brand. The Project on Middle East Political Science, March 2017 <https://pomeps.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/POMEPS_Studies_25_ Refugees_Web.pdf>

 Arar, Rawan. 2017. “Bearing Witness to the Refugee Crisis: Western Audiences and Jordanian Humanitarian Workers.” Middle East Institute, February 14, 2017 <http://www.mei.edu/content/map/bearing-witness-refugee-crisis>

 Arar, Rawan. 2017. “National Challenges in Today’s Global Refugee Crisis.” Scholars Strategy Network, January 10, 2017 <http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/brief/national-challenges-todays-global-refugee-crisis>

 FitzGerald, David and Rawan Arar. 2016. “What drives refugee migration?” Summer 2016. Newsletter of the American Political Science Association (APSA) Section on Migration and Citizenship. Vol. 4, No. 2.

 Arar, Rawan, Lisel Hintz, and Kelsey Norman. 2016. “The Real Refugee Crisis is in the Middle East, not Europe.” The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog, May 14, 2016 <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/05/14/the-real-refugee-crisis-is-in-the-middle-east-not-europe/>

 Arar, Rawan. 2016. Book Review in Ethnic and Racial Studies of Keith Feldman’s A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (University of Minnesota Press 2015)10.1080/01419870.2015.1131321

 Higgins, Clair and Rawan Arar. 2015. “Refugees and an Avalanche of Numbers.” Asia and the Pacific Policy Society, December 21, 2015 <http://www.policyforum.net/refugees-and-an-avalanche-of-numbers/>

 Arar, Rawan. 2015. “Sharing the Burden: Solidarity Through a Recognition of Injustice” in The Map is Not the Territory, edited by Jennifer Health. Boulder, Colorado: Baksun Books & Art.

Talks & Media

Rosenfield Symposium Features Immigration Experts (Sept. 9, 2016)                    


KPBS Midday Edition with Maureen Cavanaugh Radio Interview (Nov. 11, 2015) http://www.kpbs.org/news/2015/nov/04/san-diego-forum-global-refugee-crisis/

KPBS Evening Edition, TV appearance with Amita Sharma (Nov. 11, 2015)                       http://www.kpbs.org/audioclips/25761/#transcript