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Erin Routon

Erin Routon

Assistant Professor
Ph.D. in Anthropology, Cornell University

Biographical Summary

A native Texan, Erin Routon is a cultural anthropologist with geographical expertise in the United States and Latin America, and subject expertise in Latin American/Latinx studies, migration studies, carceral studies, legal studies, activism, and borders. Dr. Routon’s interdisciplinary research and writing center on themes of migration, care, exclusion, and resistance.

Most recently, Dr. Routon was a writing instructor at Harvard University, where she taught an expository writing course on the history of immigrant incarceration in the U.S. She also taught courses on visual representations of global forced migration and embodied experiences of border-crossing and residence at the Mexico-U.S. border at Harvard University’s Extension School. She was also an Inclusive Practice Fellow at the Harvard Inclusive Teaching Institute.

Dr. Routon’s current ethnographic research focuses on legal advocacy labor and activism with and amongst detained migrants in the United States, contributing to the still under-researched terrains of American carceral spaces. She began her multi-sited research project on legal services in migrant family detention centers in 2015 and conducted interviews with volunteer lawyers, legal assistants, students, and interpreters. These volunteers served as legal advocates with non-profit organizations offering pro bono assistance to asylum-seeking parents and children held in family detention centers in South Texas. Her research with these advocates explored how, through what she calls ‘legal care’, they resisted the everyday forms of violence and exclusion that mark both administrative incarceration and asylum legal processes. Among the consequential gendered and racial dynamics of such environments, her work demonstrates that a close examination of the fractious and unpredictable terrains of care offers an informative encounter with the complex material and emotional entanglements necessarily involved in the incarceration or otherwise spatial exclusion of migrant families. Furthermore, her research points to the continuing need for recognition of both non-traditional forms of caring labor and critical reflection on the ongoing co-optation of care by the state.

While continuing her research on legal care and activist mobilizations in defense of migrant and migrant-adjacent communities across the U.S., Dr. Routon is also working on a new project that explores the labor and experiences of local and transnational translators in immigration legal processes. Additionally, she is working on two books based upon her ethnographic research on family detention. One is a graphic novelization of portions of her research and work with legal advocates and asylum-seekers. Her other book focuses on both her research and the trajectory of family detention and separation at the Mexico-U.S. border over the course of the past three presidential administrations.

As an applied anthropologist, Dr. Routon has a strong commitment to working with and for the communities and organizations that lie at the center of her research and personal interests. Over the past decade, her research has involved extensive engagement with non-profit and activist organizations serving the various needs of immigrant and incarcerated communities across the U.S. During the years of her dissertation research, she volunteered primarily as a legal assistant with a legal advocacy coalition, working with detained asylum-seeking families in South Texas on their asylum cases. She has worked with numerous other immigrant/prisoner advocacy organizations, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), to assist in the release of detained migrants and connection of detainees with legal representation. Most recently, she served with a Boston-based non-profit—Boston Immigrant Justice Accompaniment Network—organizing a detainee letter writing campaign and accompanying local immigrants to court appointments. She looks forward to continuing her work with both national and local, Houston-based immigrant advocacy groups as well as finding novel ways to engage her students in community organizing research and practice.       


  • Ph.D. and M.A. in Anthropology, minor in Latinx Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • M.A. in Religious Studies, University of California, Riverside, CA
  • B.A. in English, University of Hawai’i, Hilo, HI 

Research Interests

  • Care and resistance
  • Migration and displacement
  • Incarceration
  • Activism and critical humanitarianism
  • Multisensory ethnography
  • Art and graphic representation
  • Crisis and security 

Selected Publications

Routon, Erin. 2021. “Legal Care and Friction in Family Detention”. Cultural Anthropology 36             


Riva, Sara and Erin Routon. 2020. “Reinforcing and Contesting Neoliberal Citizenship: Legal            

Advocates and the Asylum Interview at the U.S.-Mexico Border”. Journal of Refugee Studies.

Routon, Erin. 2018. “When the State Does Care, Do You?”. University of Oxford Border            

Criminologies Blog, September 7.  

Routon, Erin. 2018. “The Trauma of Helping Asylum-Seekers.” SAPIENS, June 19.