One Nation – Breanne Thorton Grace ’04

Woman with glasses standing in sunny courtyard

The United Nations seeks durable solutions for refugees currently living in refugee camps around the world. In her sociological research, Breanne Thornton Grace examines how these UN solutions — resettlement, local integration, or voluntary repatriation — become durable through social citizenship, which refers to having access to things like health care, education, food, and legal representation.

A professor in the University of South Carolina’s College of Social Work, Grace primarily conducts her ethnographic field work at the first intra-African resettlement in Tanzania. She also conducts research among refugees in the United States, looking at how access to resources affects their integration into society and how financial stress affects the structure of their families.

“I’m intrigued by questions like ‘What are countries beholden to for their citizens? What are the rights that are enumerated?’ I’ve found that the ability to access good-quality housing, education, and health care is affected by how much money you have,” Grace says. “Scholars call it market citizenship, as rights are purchased rather than given.”

Grace first discovered an interest in studying refugee resettlement on a study abroad program at Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam during her junior year at St. Olaf. She struck up a friendship with a Fulbright Scholar on campus who was conducting research in a refugee camp, tagging along on his interviews. She also learned Swahili and, after graduation, worked as an interpreter for refugees in San Diego. Eventually she returned to Tanzania, working in refugee camps and developing research questions as a Fulbright Scholar herself. She earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Michigan State University in 2013. At home in South Carolina, Grace volunteers as an interpreter at a clinic for survivors of torture and serves on the state’s Refugee Resettlement Board.

The lessons Grace learned at St. Olaf — the value of a global perspective and of rethinking your place in the world — are ones she tries to impart to her students at the University of South Carolina.

“I majored in political science and American studies at St. Olaf, and it might seem a little weird to have my scholarship so focused abroad,” says Grace, who noted that the late Jim Farrell, professor of history and American studies, had a great influence on her. “He taught me that you only learn about your own culture by looking at yourself through another culture’s lens,” she says.

“I’m intrigued by questions like ‘What are countries beholden to for their citizens? What are the rights that are enumerated?’ I’ve found that the ability to access good-quality housing, education, and health care is affected by how much money you have. Scholars call it market citizenship, as rights are purchased rather than given.”