University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Leila Kawar

Kawar_faculty profile

Professional Title: 

Associate Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies


Thompson 608



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 issues. I am particularly interested in exploring how juridical knowledge-making intersects with migration, citizenship, and labor.

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, in both the U.S. and France, the emergence of organized immigration-centered lawyer 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. Using a combination of archival and interview sources, it tells the story of how these legal networks specialized in contesting immigration policy through litigation emerged in conjunction with grassroots protests organized in these two countries by Latin American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and North African migrant communities. 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 contributions of legal practices, principles, and professionals to the construction of the "migrant worker" in interwar and post-war liberal policy discourse. This empirical study draws on archival materials, legislative records, and oral histories to trace the relations between the development of legal standards for “safe and orderly migration” by Anglo-American jurists and the various transnational collectives of migrant advocates and activists operating in this domain, in order to identify what kind of policy knowledge was produced or articulated within this relational structure and how. While most recent scholarship on migration management initiatives has emphasized their neo-liberal underpinnings, my analysis aims to offer a richer understanding of these immigration policy assemblages and their historical association with the burgeoning interwar and post-war social state.