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Abigail Thornton

Ph.D. candidate in education, UCLA

Residency: September 2018 – May 2019

Research Project: Learning for Inclusion: Deported Migrants’ Strategies for Rebuilding Lives in Tijuana, Mexico.

Research Interests: social movement learning; participatory learning processes; migrant settlement and community development; citizenship-making; action research and alternative methodologies


Abigail Thornton is a Ph.D. candidate in education at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her dissertation research explores the learning and organizing within groups of recently deported migrants in Mexico as they begin to advocate for their inclusion in the larger Mexican society. Her research focuses on how group learning takes place as members become critically engaged in their new realities and find ways to transform recent limitations into opportunities. Through their community engagement, she attempts to illustrate how they grapple with the impact current U.S. immigration policy has had on their lives, and how they learn to act upon their new environment in ways that foster an increased sense of individual agency and collective possibility. This research therefore attempts to trace members’ learning through these participatory practices such as action research directed at improving living conditions, analyzing how their ongoing participation potentially leads to increased social action and advocacy for themselves and others recently deported back to Mexico.

Thornton’s dissertation is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Tijuana at the Casa del Migrante shelter where she has been a volunteer and researcher for the last three years supporting migrants and refugees when they arrive in the city.