Dr Ala Sirriyeh

Senior Lecturer in Sociology


I am a sociologist of migration with a primary focus on youth migration, activism, and emotions. In my research I critically engage with discourses around refugee young people and vulnerability to acknowledge and explore agency in challenging circumstances, exploring how migrants and refugees as active agents inhabit and resist violent and repressive circumstances. Since 2015 my research has centred on youth-led migrant rights and anti-racist activism. Through Santander (2015) and Leverhulme (2016-17) funded research projects I examined how undocumented young people’s experiences and pathways through activism in the undocumented youth movement in California shaped their understandings of citizenship. Since 2018, through funding from The Sociological Review and the BA/Leverhume Small Research Grants scheme I been working with colleagues at the University of Warwick, the University of Manchester and ActReal on an ongoing programme of research exploring successes, challenges and legacies of recent ‘decolonial’ and anti-racist student activism in England.

Alongside these projects, I continue to centre my research on the sociology of migration. In my second monograph, The Politics of Compassion (Bristol University Press, 2018), I drew on fieldwork in the UK, US, and Australia to explore immigration enforcement and resistance, investigating the central and nuanced role of emotions in this context. In this book I focussed on discourses around refugee and undocumented children and young people to explore compassion and its relationship to other emotions in asylum and immigration policy discourses. I examined how these manifest in compassionate refusals (justifying deterrence through compassion), compassionate resistance (resisting immigration controls), and resistance to compassion (excluding people from recognition as deserving subjects of compassion). These strands of research grew out of my first research project (ESRC funded PhD) and book, Inhabiting Borders, Routes Home (Ashgate, 2013; Routledge, 2016) which explored young refugee women’s narratives of ‘home’ in the context of their migration to the UK and transitions to adulthood. This was one of the first UK studies to explore the experiences of young refugees beyond the age of 18.

I am currently the Director of Sociology at Lancaster where I teach the third-year undergraduate module Global Migration and Belonging and on the first-year core module Sociological Imagination. I am co-convenor of the Lancaster University Migration Research Collective (with Prof. Michaela Benson) and co-convenor of the Lancaster University Sanctuary Network. I am a member of the Centre of Alternatives to Social and Economic Inequalities (CASEI) and the Social Action Research Group. I co-host (with Michaela Benson) Who Do We Think We Are? Beyond the Headlines, a podcast series which dissects the major global news stories about migration today