Sophia Balakian

Sophia Balakian

Sophia Balakian

Assistant Professor

Migration and borders, humanitarianism, securitization, kinship and family, East Africa, the Horn of Africa, North America

Sophia Balakian is a sociocultural anthropologist. Prior to coming to George Mason, Balakian was an Academy Scholar at Harvard’s Academy for International and Area Studies, and taught in the African Studies program at Penn State University.

Balakian’s current research focuses on the intersections of migration and kinship, and humanitarianism and securitization both globally and as they pertain to U.S. policy. She is currently working on a book titled, “The Fraudulent Refugee: Shaping Borders & Kinship in a Security Age.” The manuscript examines the post-9/11 securitization of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and the ways in which people from Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo who are living as refugees make sense of bureaucratic systems and security technologies that structure humanitarian programs of the early twenty-first century. The manuscript is based on long-term ethnographic research between Nairobi, Kenya and Columbus, Ohio.

Balakian’s new research project investigates the ways in which people originally from east Africa navigate U.S. policies and practices around caregiving, especially childcare. How do people re-imagine what constitutes good care in a radically new social and economic environment? How do their practices, struggles, and observations invite critical reflection on U.S. capitalism and the disinvestment in infrastructures of childcare? 

Balakian has published in the journals Anthropologica and African Studies Review, and in the edited volume, Global Perspectives on the United States.

Selected Publications

2020  “Navigating Patchwork Governance: Somalis in Kenya, National Security, and Refugee Resettlement.” African Studies Review 63(1):43-64.

2019  Balakian, Sophia and Virginia Dominguez. “The Promise and The Lost City of Z: Diasporas, Cinematic Imperialism, and Commercial Films.” Anthropologica 61(1):150-61.

2016 “‘Money Is Your Government’: Refugees, Mobility, and Unstable Documents in Kenya’s Operation Usalama Watch.” African Studies Review 59(2):87-111. 

Grants and Fellowships

2016 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship,

        American Council of Learned Societies

2016  Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (declined),

        Woodrow Wilson Foundation

2013 Dissertation Fieldwork Grant,

        The Wenner-Gren Foundation                       

2013  International Dissertation Research Fellowship,

         Social Science Research Council

In the Media

2020 “Refugee Families in the Era of Global Securitization.” Interview with Chris Gratien. Ottoman History Podcast. July 29.  https://www.ottomanhistorypodcast.com/2020/07/family-reunification.html

2017 “What Does Refugee Vetting Look Like on the Ground?” Expert Viewpoints. March 21. https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/476962

2016 “Risk, Refugees, and the Politics of Blame: the U.S. After the Paris Attacks.” Unstratified. January 25. https://unstratifiedarchaeology.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/risk-refugees-and-the-politics-of-blame-the-us-after-the-paris-attacks/