Meet Sabrina Axster, 2021 APSA Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grantee

The American Political Science Association is pleased to announce the Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG) Awardees for 2021. The APSA DDRIG program provides support to enhance and improve the conduct of doctoral dissertation research in political science. Awards support basic research which is theoretically derived and empirically oriented.

Sabrina Axster, Johns Hopkins University

Sabrina Axster is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. She holds an MS in Global Affairs from Rutgers University and an MSc in International Development Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Prior to embarking on her doctoral studies, she worked at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Her research interests include migration, comparative racial politics and inquiries into policing, prisons and the carceral state. Sabrina’s doctoral thesis, “Arresting Movement: The Political Economy of Immigration Detention in Germany, Swede and the United Kingdom” compares the emergence and evolution of immigration detention in Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Designed to deprive people of their freedom to move due to their immigration status, immigration detention is a central component of global efforts to curb migration.

Drawing on research that traces the emergence of migration control to colonialism and the control of the rural poor in the United States and Europe, Sabrina examines the historical context of mobility control of citizens and non-citizens. In doing so, she studies immigration detention in its relation to the prison to better understand how the two have been conceptually linked from early on and when, why and with what consequences immigration detention emerged as a stand-alone phenomenon. She further examines the historical social and economic processes that gave rise to immigration detention and how its use is justified. Sabrina’s thesis thus folds into debates around the role of punishment, political economy and racism in political science and contributes to scholarship on migration control, citizenship and criminal justice. Through her research, she makes three theoretical contributions: She develops an analytical framework generalizable to other countries to more effectively theorize what shapes the character of immigration detention in different national contexts. Second, she further theorizes the relationship between migration control and prisons. Here, she interrogates how racial constructions of delinquency and deservingness undermine the protections citizenship is supposed to provide. By interrogating these dynamics in three European countries, she broadens this field of inquiry by assessing how US-specific frameworks can apply to other contexts. Thirdly, by placing the evolution of immigration detention within broader national and global societal and economic contexts, her research can help us better understand which crises immigration detention responds to.


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