Sophia Balakian F'16

Sophia  Balakian
Lecturer
African Studies
Pennsylvania State University
last updated: 7/17/2019

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2016
Doctoral Candidate
Anthropology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"The Fraudulent Family": Humanitarianism, Security, and Competing Ethical Claims in Refugee Resettlement from Kenya

In 2008, the US government suspended the Refugee Family Reunification Program after DNA tests showed that 80 percent of families, many based in Kenya, were “fraudulent.” This research begins with this case to examine discourses of fraud and antifraud practices to understand competing claims within a system that is motivated by humanitarianism and protecting refugees on one hand, and security and protecting borders and bureaucracies on the other. Here, the category family is particularly fraught. Institutions aiding refugees consider it both a critical object of care and a dangerous site for potential fraud. Attending to the intersection of a patchwork of bureaucratic institutions and refugees’ strategies for navigating them, this dissertation examines postcolonial regimes of truth production. Ethnographically tracing families from Nairobi to North America, it points out the ethical complexities of this humanitarian program as it shapes the borderlands between East Africa and the Global North.