I am an urban scholar of globalization. My scholarship is situated at the intersection of sociology, geography, planning, and feminist studies, using case study and ethnographic methodologies. My research concerns social and institutional aspects of urban development and planning that address basic human needs including housing and urban infrastructure and services that support it. I am particularly interested in the global and local development processes and contingencies involved in the formation of the city and citizens’ struggles for dignified livelihood — namely, how groups disadvantaged by class, gender, race, and ethnicity mobilize for resources such as shelter, basic infrastructure, and services and how institutional arrangements facilitate and frustrate provision and access to such vital urban resources.
A native of Iran, over the years my research and teaching has spanned several regions including the Middle East, Latin America, Southern Africa, and North America. In the 1990s, I studied this relationship through the experience of low-income communities, particularly female-headed households in Latin America; since the late-1990s I studied the struggle for justice and equity through the experience of racialized township residents in post-apartheid South Africa. My most recent work among immigrants and displaced laborers in the US is culmination of my earlier research revealing the intimate connections in community development processes across the globe including Michoacán, Mexico, Lomé, Togo and the rustbelt of United States. My Global Heartland: Displaced Labor, Transnational Lives and Local Placemaking, which won several book awards, through a multi-sited ethnography and a relational frame of analysis exposes global inequalities and development connections and dependencies that intimately connect communities across the globe, in specific revealing the role of transnational families and their everyday practices of care. For a documentary based on Global Heartland interviews, see “Moving Flesh,” produced by artist-scholar-activists Sarah Ross and Ryan Griffis.
In 2014 I was selected as University Scholar, a prestigious award the University of Illinois bestows on its faculty for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service.