Doctoral Dissertation Research: The political economy of migration, labor, and documentation


Rosalind Morris
Professor of Anthropology
Alexander Maier
PhD Student


Regularized bureaucratic strategies are demonstrated to prevent migrants with legal status from lapsing into illegal status. This can also adversely impact communities whose livelihoods depend on migrant labor. This doctoral dissertation research asks how individuals negotiate securing documentation to support their claims in changing political contexts. It focuses directly on the continuum of documents that support claims of national identity in an attempt to move beyond binary characterizations of legal status. This project trains a graduate student in the methods of empirical, scientific data collection and analysis. The results will be widely disseminated to academic and non-academic audiences.

The project integrates theory in legal anthropology, the anthropology of bureaucracy and political economy to investigate three research questions: 1) How does paperwork relate to legal status? 2) What strategies do migrants pursue to secure documentation and how is this adjudicated by government officials? 3) What are the consequences of documentation on migrants’ lived experiences? The student investigator uses participant observation, interviews, and archival research in multiple settings where processes of documentation unfold to characterize the effects of different forms of documents on legal status and lived experiences. The work informs efforts to regularize documentation processes to benefit communities and individuals impacted by labor migration.