New Projects

Faces of American Democracy

In 2015, Americans learned that public authorities in Ferguson, Missouri had imposed a “predatory system of government” on poor black citizens. Ferguson residents were targeted, arrested, and summonsed on civil-ordinance violations, assessed prohibitive fines and fees, and subjected to jail if they failed to pay. The extensiveness of the repression, harassment, and pilfering of the citizenry looked eerily similar to the practices of failed states and authoritarian regimes and yet, Americans struggled with how to understand what looked like vastly different governing arrangements in a single republic.  Is there a distinct type of governance being practiced in communities within our democracy? How is the government oriented toward people in poor communities?

I am working on is a multi-method examination of the relationship between poor citizens and communities and government in the United States, The Faces of American Democracy.

The study of inequality has received renewed attention amidst alarming findings that we are now more unequal than any other time in recent memory.  But the citizenship in poor communities is greater than the sum of exclusions, material insecurity, or private discrimination within the market.  Instead, it is a broad difference in the way the government – from police to schools to the welfare system – orients itself towards its residents.

With support from the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, Faces of American Democracy will be the first systematic study of how Americans in different communities experience government activity across a multiplicity of sites (schools, social welfare agencies, police and probation agencies, civil ordinances, the housing authority, and child protective services) and how those experiences influence political dispositions.

In a related project, Tracey Meares, Gwen Prowse, and I are using a new technology, Portals, to initiate conversations about policing and incarceration in communities felled by police violence – communities like Freddie Gray’s, Michael Brown’s, and Eric Garner’s.  By creating a “wormhole” through space, a bridge to places unseen and unheard, and, crucially, by making access to these wormholes easy and free, Portals transforms the capacity of disparate people and communities to define their narratives, enhance political activism, create connected political spaces, and expand the possibility of studying politics in beneficially recursive ways.

What are those shiny gold shipping containers? This article in the Atlantic’s CityLab gives the gist of the Portals project. This one describes the project after we previewed findings at Notre Dame’s Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy .  A generous Carnegie award made this project possible.

Working papers and articles related to the project:

Withdrawing or Drawing In? Political Discourse in Policed Communities. with Gwen Prowse and Spencer Piston, forthcoming, Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics.

The State from Below: Distorted Responsiveness in Policed Communities. with Gwen Prowse and Tracey Meares, Urban Affairs Review

Too Much Knowledge, Too Little Power: An Assessment of Political Knowledge in Highly Policed Communities. with Spencer Piston and Gwen Prowse,  Journal of Politics.


The Politics of Intra-Racial Inequality

Here they treat us like a different race’: A Multi-city Study of Class-in-Race Inequality – explores shifting politics as minority groups move from a condition of almost uniform poverty and oppression to increasing internal disparity in economic standing and prospects, lived experiences, and political impact and power. How has the pitched rise in inequality (and the resulting divergence in lived experiences) shaped group affinities, policy commitments, and political ideas and behaviors among the best off and the most disadvantaged minorities?  With a presidential grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, Jennifer Hochschild and I are exploring this question with a large-N survey of 3000 respondents in ten cities and local case studies in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Our initial research suggests that in some arenas, better-off minorities are moving away from their poorer counterparts not only geographically and economically, but also politically. Affluent blacks and Latinos are less supportive of redistributive policies in the late 2000s than their predecessors were in the 1980s, and they have shifted to the right more than non-affluent members of their groups have; yet class polarization has not chipped away at group solidarity or commitment to policies that explicitly help blacks and Latinos.  In other words, racial liberalism and economic liberalism may increasingly be decoupled. If such divisions grow, they could alter the lines of inclusion in the United States, the strategies of advocates and politicians, and ultimately, the fate of the most disadvantaged Americans.

Working papers available soon.