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Anya Degenshein

Area(s) of Interest

Criminal justice, punishment, law and society, surveillance and digital technologies, cultural sociology, discourse and narrative, risk, social theory, racial and economic inequality

Dissertation Title:

Lawfully Entrapped: The Creation of Risk in the “War on Terror”


Anya Degenshein is a Presidential Fellow, the most prestigious award Northwestern gives to graduate students, and a Graduate Fellow in Legal Studies. Her research examines the scope and consequences of the contemporary US criminal justice system, with a particular interest in its relationship to social inequality.

How do terrorism cases with numerous indicators of entrapment prevail in federal court despite case law designed to prevent these very policing practices? That is the puzzle at the heart of Anya’s dissertation project. To answer it, she uses a combination of case studies and digital court archives to examine the legal narratives used to justify extreme preventative policing tactics in the so-called “War on Terror.” Existing research on terrorism focuses primarily on indicators of radicalization and propensity to commit crime in order to develop effective preventative strategies. Her research shows, however, that these studies miss the degree to which preventative tactics overdetermine case outcomes in practice. Starting with the legal narratives themselves, she show how terrorism “entrapment” cases are largely based on speculation about the significance of constitutionally protected behaviors rather than evidence of criminal intent. This lawful speculation is used, in turn, to justify policing tactics that induce criminal behavior and create the very risks federal law enforcement seek to prevent, ultimately serving to further institutionalize racial and ethnic discrimination rather than thwart harm.

Other projects include a 13-month ethnography of a Chicago pawnshop and a case study of a clash between state-level prosecutorial lobbyists and victims’ advocates that uses both in-depth interviewing and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)-requested recordings from legislative hearings.

Peer-Reviewed Publications:

Degenshein, Anya (2017) “Strategies of Valuation: Repertoires of Worth at the Financial Margins,” Theory and Society 46(5): 287-409

  • ASA Culture Section Graduate Student Paper Award, 2018

Papers Under Review:

Degenshein, Anya. “The Object Economy: The Banking Alternative of a Chicago Pawnshop.”

Manuscripts in Preparation:

Degenshein, Anya. “‘Digital Avatar’ or ‘Double Life’? How Digital Evidence is Characterized and Used in a Terrorism Entrapment Trial.”

Degenshein, Anya. “Assessing Threat: The Retreat of Risk in Terrorism ‘Prevention.’”  

Degenshein, Anya. “Ruptured Alliances: Prosecutors, Victims, and the Legislative Fight for Discretion.”

Degenshein, Anya. “Heeding Desire: Social Meaning-Making and Researcher-Informant Relations in the Field.”

Awards, Fellowships, and Grants:

2017-2019 Presidential Fellowship, Society of Fellows, Northwestern University.
2018 Richard A. Peterson Prize for the Best Graduate Student Paper, Section on the Sociology of Culture, American Sociological Association.
2012-present Legal Studies Fellow, Center for Legal Studies, Northwestern University.
2017 Karpf Peace Prize, Northwestern University. ($3,335)
2016-2017 University Fellowship, The Graduate School, Northwestern University.
Summer 2016 The Sexualities Program at Northwestern (SPAN) Conference Travel Award Grant ($400)
2015-2016 Doctoral Exchange Student Fellowship, Sciences Po, Paris.
2015-2016 Paris Program in Critical Theory Fellow, Northwestern University. ($3,000 travel and relocation grant)
Summer 2013 MacArthur Summer Research Grant, with John Hagan
2012-2013 University Fellowship, The Graduate School, Northwestern University ($1,200)

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