University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Leila Kawar

Kawar_faculty profile

Professional Title: 

Assistant Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies


Thompson 608


Office Hours: 

For Fall 2017: Thursdays 3:45-6pm and by appointment


PhD, Law and Society, New York University; MSc, Social Anthropology, London School of Economics; BA, Economics, Harvard College


My research examines how the work of lawyers, judges, and other legal experts shapes our understandings of social policy issues. I am particularly interested in exploring how juridical knowledge-making intersects with policy making in the areas of migration, citizenship, and labor. And I study these processes both in the U.S. and in other national and international contexts.

In the tradition of interpretive Law and Society scholarship, I draw on a combination of textual analysis and naturalistic field-research methods.

My first major research project culminated in a monograph, entitled Contesting Immigration Policy in Court: Legal Activism and Its Radiating Effects in the United States and France (Cambridge University Press). In the volume I argue that, across national settings, the emergence of organized immigration-centered legal activist networks since the mid-1970s has injected a distinctly juridical logic that has contributed to reshaping how immigration control policies are formulated and contested, even as this juridification has taken distinct forms in each country. In Contesting Immigration Policy I invite scholars of legal politics to explore not only the rules and outcomes of court decisions but also the process of legal contestation as a site for constituting political categories and relationships. The book received the Law and Society Association's Herbert Jacob Book Award for best book in law and society in 2016 and also the APSA Migration and Citizenship Section award of Best Book in 2016. 

My current research project examines the role of expert practices in shaping the construction of "global migration governance." This empirically-grounded study traces the varied trajectories of international efforts to regulate human mobility over the past century, drawing upon a combination of archival research and extended fieldwork within inter-governmental organizations. While most recent scholarship on global governance has focused on how legal techniques regulate the movement of goods and capital, my analysis aims to offer a richer understanding of international economic governance by calling attention to the place of neoliberal categories and techniques in regulating human mobility across international borders.

Area of Study: 

  • Comparative politics
  • Public law
  • Public policy and organizations

Curriculum Vitae: 

Download docx (44.32 KB)


  • Legal Studies