Pei Palmgren

Pei Palmgren

Office: A50 Haines Hall


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I aim to understand the varied and shifting arrangements of control that migrants confront in search of livelihoods and security. To this end, I study migrant labor regulation, brokerage and guestwork governance, borderlands and sociospatial control, and forced migration and refugee resettlement, with an area emphasis on Southeast Asia. As an ethnographer, I examine these phenomena on the ground and in relation to political economies of development, global production, and international human rights.

My dissertation is a comparative ethnography of labor migration governance in Thailand. Drawing from participant observation in migrant rights organizations and in-depth interviews with migrant workers from Myanmar, Thai government officers, employers, and documentation brokers, I compare two regimes of labor migration to explain how, why, and with what consequences one state advances divergent systems to regulate and reproduce low-wage migrant labor.


  • MA Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles
  • MA Humanities and Social thought, New York University
  • BA Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Fields of Study

Political sociology, international migration, displacement, development, Southeast Asia, comparative ethnography and qualitative methods


  • 2020. “Onward pushes and negotiated refuge: theorizing the fluid national and urban regimes of forced migration in Southeast Asia.” in Displacement: Global Conversations on Refuge. Edited by Silvia Pasquetti and Romola Sanyal. Manchester University Press.
  • 2017. “Survival and integration: Kachin social networks and refugee management regimes in Kuala Lumpur and Los Angeles.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34(13): 2247-2264.
  • 2014. “Irregular Networks: Bangkok Refugees in the City and Region.” Journal of Refugee Studies, 27(1):21-41.
  • 2011. “Navigating a Hostile Terrain: Refugees and Human Rights in Southeast Asia.” Sociology Compass, 5: 323-335.

Awards & Grants

  • UCLA Graduate Division, Dissertation Year Fellowship, 2021
  • UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (Thai), 2020-2021
  • National Science Foundation, Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement, 2020-2021
  • UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (Thai), 2018-2019
  • UCLA International Institute Fieldwork Fellowship, 2017
  • Social Science Research Council Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship, 2016
  • UCLA Sociology Department Excellence in Teaching Award, 2014-2015
  • UCLA Graduate Division, Graduate Research Mentorship, 2015-2016
  • UCLA Graduate Division, Graduate Summer Research Mentorship, 2015
  • Ford Foundation, Predoctoral Fellowship (alternate – honorable mention), 2015
  • UCLA Graduate Division, Graduate Summer Research Mentorship, 2014
  • National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship (honorable mention), 2014
  • UCLA Department of Sociology Fellowship, 2013-14, 2017-18


  • Ching Kwan Lee (chair)
  • Roger Waldinger
  • Ruben Hernandez-Leon
  • Eric Sheppard (UCLA Geography)