Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Blair Sackett

Postdoctoral Fellow in International and Public Affairs


Blair Sackett is a Postdoctoral Fellow in International and Public Affairs at Brown University. She completed her PhD in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. In a period of rising forced migration, due to war and political upheaval as well as climate change, her research focuses on refugees and the institutional barriers and opportunities they face in accessing rights, education, and basic needs. Using qualitative methods, she has conducted two studies, one studying long-term displacement in a refugee camp in Kenya and one on refugee resettlement to the U.S. Her research has been supported by a Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellowship and Swahili language training through U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships.


Sackett’s research focus on refugees and the institutional barriers and opportunities they face in accessing resources. Fleeing war and persecution, refugees are uprooted not just from their home country, but also from their economic livelihoods. Her dissertation examines how refugees make ends meet in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya—a context of dwindling aid. Based on over 14 months of ethnographic observation, her dissertation reveals the importance of refugee social networks and informal refugee organizations, such as churches, women’s groups, and ethnic associations, in helping families make ends meet.

She is also first author of a co-authored book (with Annette Lareau) under contract with the University of California Press, titled We Thought It Would Be Heaven: Refugees in an Unequal America. Based on extensive fieldwork with Congolese refugee families and aid workers and volunteers, Seeking Refuge examines the obstacles resettled refugees face across an array of American institutions—from schools to welfare offices. Each institution presents hurdles that threaten to become barriers to refugees’ pathways to upward mobility.


Refugee Families
Introduction to Sociology