On his first trip to the Saudi Arabian desert as a graduate student 20 years ago, anthropology professor Andrew Gardner was struck by the beauty of the landscape, and also by how many South Asians were at work there.

His casual observation was backed by data—the Gulf States are the third primary destination for migrant workers—and at the time, no one was studying it. He returned to the Gulf States many times, and is now regarded as a leading expert on transnational migration.

Andrew sees anthropology as a study of the human condition, and the anthropologist’s mission as solving real-world problems through that lens. Rather than simply studying a rising trend, he wants to understand the experience of the people caught up in the system, and improve it, if he can. To that end, six years ago, he went to Qatar to run the first-ever quantitative, large-scale survey of migrants in the region. He and his team used an ethnographic methodology to understand the kinds of challenges that migrants have with the Qatari justice system, then provided recommendations to the Ministry of the Interior. The project was emblematic of Andrew’s approach; he says the research question driving the work was “How can the justice system do better?” I spoke to him about his ongoing work in the Gulf region at his office in McIntyre Hall.