Blair Sackett

Blair Sackett

Doctoral Candidate in Sociology

McNeil 342


Blair Sackett is interested in inequality and how institutions shape the distribution of resources among refugees. Using qualitative methods, she has examined these processes in two projects studying long-term displacement in a refugee camp in Kenya and refugee resettlement to the U.S.

Her dissertation reveals how, within a context of austerity among formal aid institutions (such as the United Nations Refugee Agency), informal refugee organizations played a central role in the flow of resources in a refugee camp in Kenya. She conducted over 14 months of ethnographic observation in Kakuma refugee camp, 155 interviews with aid workers and refugees, and longitudinal weekly questionnaires with refugee households. This research shows that budget cuts and neoliberal aims led to decreased humanitarian aid. These institutional policies destabilized not only individual households, but also the exchange of resources between refugee ties, thus reducing social capital. Her dissertation highlights the importance of informal refugee organizations, like churches, women’s groups, and ethnic associations—institutions that operated in the shadow of the dominant aid organizations. This research has been supported by the Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellowship, the Teece Fellowship, and the Gertrude and Otto Pollak Summer Research Fellowship.

Blair is also the first author of a book (co-authored with Annette Lareau) under contract with the University of California Press, titled Seeking Refuge, Finding Inequality: Refugees Navigating Institutional Barriers. Blair did observations with four refugee families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo resettled to Philadelphia, and five years later, conducted follow-up interviews. Based on this research and in-depth interviews with 40 additional Congolese refugee families and 35 aid workers and volunteers, Seeking Refuge examines the barriers resettled refugees face across an array of American institutions—from schools to welfare offices. Each institution presents hurdles that threaten to become roadblocks to refugees’ accumulation of resources.

Blair graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a B.A. in Urban Studies and African and African American Studies, where she wrote an honors thesis on immigrant incorporation and racial identification of Ethiopian immigrants and refugees in Washington, D.C.


Ph.D. is expected May 2022.

Committee: Annette Lareau (co-chair), Randall Collins (co-chair), Mauro Guillen, Chenoa Flippen


M.A. in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, 2015

B.A., Urban Studies and African and African American Studies, Washington University in St. Louis, 2012

Research Interests

International Migration, Immigration, Inequality and Social Stratification, Work and Organizations, Economic Sociology, Qualitative Research Methods

Courses Taught

SOCI 270 – Refugee Families, Bryn Mawr

Selected Publications

Sackett, Blair and Annette Lareau. Forthcoming. Seeking Refuge, Finding Inequality: Refugees Navigating Institutional Barriers. Manuscript under contract with University of California Press.

Sackett, Blair. Forthcoming. “A Uniform Front?: Power and front-line worker variation in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya.” Ethnography.

Sackett, Blair. “Neoliberal Refugees? Budget Cuts and Business Hurdles.” Conflict(ed): Peace, War, and Social Conflict ASA Section Blog.

Sackett, Blair. “The Paradox of Self-Reliance: Humanitarian Assistance in Kakuma Refugee Camp.” Conflict(ed): Peace, War, and Social Conflict ASA Section Blog.


In Submission

Sackett, Blair and Annette Lareau. “Families, Institutional Errors, and the Web of Navigation: The Case of Refugees.” Selected for the special issue of RSF: The Russell Sage Journal of the Social Sciences on “Administrative Burdens as a Mechanism of Inequality,” pending final review.

Sackett, Blair. “Circuit Breakers in Social Networks: Rejection, Reciprocity, and the Temporal Context of Exchange in a Refugee Camp,” under review at Social Forces.

  • 2020 Elise Boulding Student Paper Award from the Peace, War, and Social Conflict Section of the American Sociological Association


In Preparation

Sackett, Blair. “Ghosted: Disappearance in Qualitative Research in the Digital Era.” 

  • 2021 Clifford Clogg Student Paper Award from the Methodology Section of the American Sociological Association

Sackett, Blair. “‘We Thought We Had Refuge’: Police Killings as Moments of Acute Racialization among Resettled Congolese Refugees in the U.S.”

Sackett, Blair. “The Institutional Basis of Self-Reliance: Humanitarian Assistance, Household Resources, and Fluctuations in Social Capital in Kakuma Refugee Camp.”

Sackett, Blair. “Rejected: The Fragility of Social Capital for Health Resources in a Refugee Camp in Kenya.”