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We thought it would be heaven: refugees in an unequal America

Hosted by the Department of Sociology

Alumni Theatre, Cheng Kin Ku Building


Professor Annette Lareau

Professor Annette Lareau

Leverhulme Visiting Professor, LSE

Dr Blair Sackett

Dr Blair Sackett

Brown University


Professor Suzi Hall

Professor Suzi Hall

Professor of Sociology

As Bourdieu has demonstrated, the “rules of the game” determine access to scarce resources. Yet, in studies of immigrants, there has been insufficient attention to how organisational rules across a wide range of institutions matter.

In this talk, the authors share the results of their new book, We Thought It Would Be Heaven: Refugees in an Unequal America which is an ethnographic study of resettled refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their book illuminates how fields specify intricate rules which can block refugees’ chances for upward mobility. While the refugee families have extensive skills, these resources are not recognized and valued by gatekeepers. The findings reveal how organisational hurdles and “knots” families encounter help to create economic inequality. The authors suggest that the focus should not be on individuals’ practices per se but the ways in which practices conform to institutional standards and thus gain value. Refugees quickly learn that while the United States offers opportunities, it also is a land of inequality.

We Thought It Would Be Heaven: Refugees in an Unequal America
 we thought it would be heaven book cover

Meet the speakers: 

Annette Lareau is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of the award-winning books Unequal Childhoods, Home Advantage, and Listening to People. Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation, she is currently doing a study of the blessings and challenges of wealth for families of high net worth. Annette is currently visiting the London School of Economics and Political Science funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Blair Sackett is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Her research examines the intersection of social inequality and forced migration. She is co-author, with Annette Lareau, of We Thought It Would be Heaven: Refugees in an Unequal America with University of California Press.


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