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Natasha N. Iskander

I am a migration scholar captivated by migration’s generative potential. In my scholarship, I am continually drawn to the way that migration blends, twists, and cracks open social formations and political structures. More specifically, my research explores how migration’s dislocations and discontinuities produce new knowledges. I explore how new interpretations of social and economic worlds provide a resource for radical political action at sites both of immigration and emigration.


To explore these processes, I look at the sphere of policy, with a focus on policies that direct economic development and shape the institutions that structure work. I start from the premise that policy is an enactment of the beliefs about who deserves power and political rights, whose work has value, and who should have the freedom to move. These policy narratives have consequences; they become the futures we make – economically, politically, institutionally, spatially, and increasingly, materially and ecologically.


I am the James Weldon Johnson Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. I have published widely on immigration, skill, economic development, and worker rights. My first book, Creative State: Forty Years of Migration and Development Policy in Morocco and Mexico (Cornell University Press, ILR imprint, 2010), looked at the ways that migrant workers transformed the economic development policies of their countries of origin. My latest book, Does Skill Make Us Human?: Migrant Workers in 21st Century Qatar and Beyond (Princeton University Press, 2021), examines the use of skill categories to define political personhood, in ways that have become increasingly salient with the hardening borders and the pressures of climate change. 

My research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Qatar National Research Foundation, and others. She has held positions as a fellow-in-residence at the Zolberg Institute for Migration and Mobility at the New School for Social Research, at the Center for Advanced Studies of the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and at the Global Research Institute at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Currently, my research is being supported by the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, where I am fellow for the 2022-2023 term.  My project while there focuses on concrete — the second most used substance on the planet (second only to water) and responsible for close to a tenth of all carbon dioxide emissions globally — as a material lens to examine at the relationship between climate change, migration, urbanization, and the future of work. 

I hold PhD in Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a also a Masters in City Planning (MCP) also from MIT, and a BA in Cultural Studies from Stanford University. In addition to my research, I engage in development work with partners ranging from the World Bank to small NGOs, internationally and in the United States, on issues of urban development, migration and development policy, and migrant worker rights.


In 2019, I founded the NYU Migration Network, a network of over 130 NYU researchers and artists, located around the world, whose work engages with questions of migration and mobility.  I am currently the director of the NYU Migration Network.


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