Deconstructing Ferguson 2015-2016

The theme of this working group arises from one of the key issues of our time: the dynamics of inequality, repression, and collective action by the poor in Ferguson, Missouri. 



“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” – James Baldwin

On May 8, 2015 I-CSI and the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School directed by Tracey Meares, hosted its inaugural working group, Deconstructing Ferguson: How Institutions, Policy, and Law Shape American Civic Identity and Experience. In this multi-disciplinary endeavor, two dozen experts explored how state institutions foster identity, inequality, and membership using Ferguson as a case study.

The motivation for this working group was built on a simple observation: people are not born knowing who they are as citizens. Instead, they learn their relationship to the state, to other constituents of the state, and their positioning in the racial order, in significant part through their experiences with governing institutions, policies, and law. While scholars usually understand this process of civic education in terms of the formal education offered in primary and secondary schools (or in the child-rearing practices of the home), a growing body of scholarship has underscored the ways in which a much wider and more pervasive array of social structures, legal determinations, and state institutions also offer people lessons in what Judith Sklar called “political standing.”

Our aim was to generate new policy ideas, conceptual innovations, and research agendas around the relationship between poor citizens and the state in contemporary America. Each expert developed one bold idea that amends current frameworks in a significant way, imagines new forms of interdisciplinary collaboration, develops a new way to think about Ferguson in particular, or pushes forward a policy intervention. Our goal was to offer up a capacious analysis of Ferguson and beyond through systematic research and newly inspired theories about the relationship between state institutions and marginalized communities.

Working Group Participants

Danielle Allen, Harvard, Institute for Advanced Study, author of Talking to Strangers

Bennett Capers, Brooklyn Law School, author of Policing, Place, and Race

Cathy Cohen, University of Chicago, Political Science, author of Democracy Remixed

Devin Fergus, Ohio State University, African American Studies and History, author of Land of the Fee

Colin Gordon, University of Iowa, History, author of Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City

Elizabeth Hinton, Harvard University, History and African American Studies, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: Race and Federal Policy in American Cities

Issa Kohler-Hausmann, Yale Law School, author of Misdemeanor Justice: Control without Conviction

Clarissa Rile Hayward, Washington University, St. Louis, Political Science, author of De-Facing Power and How Americans Make Race: Stories, Institutions, Spaces

Benjamin Justice, Rutgers University, Education and History, author of How the Criminal Justice System Educates Citizens

Meira Levinson, Harvard, author of No Citizen Left Behind

Tracey Meares, Yale Law School, author of Urgent Times: Policing, Rights in Inner-City Communities

Lisa Miller, Rutgers, Political Science, author of The Perils of Federalism

Melissa Nobles, MIT, Political Science, author of The Politics of Official Apologies and Shades of Citizenship

Josh Page, University of Minnesota, Sociology, author of The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California

Andrew Papachristos, Yale University, Sociology, author of The Structural and Cultural Dynamics of Neighborhood Violence

Manuel Pastor, University of Southern California, author of Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions

Daria Roithmayr, USC Law School, author of Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage

David Schleicher, Yale Law School, author of City Un-Planning

Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania, Political Science, author of Civic Ideals

Joe Soss, University of Minnesota, Political Science, author of Disciplining the Poor

Tom Sugrue, University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology, author of Origins of the Urban Crisis

Gerald Torres, Cornell Law, visiting at Yale Law, author of The Minor’s Canary

Tom Tyler, Yale Law School, author of Why People Obey the Law

Vesla Weaver, Yale University, Political Science, author of Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control

Bruce Western, Harvard, Sociology, author of Punishment and Inequality in America

8/10: Balkinization, the popular law blog, has featured several posts by members of the I-CSI “Deconstructing Ferguson” working group to commemorate and critically reflect on the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. Thus far, Tracey Meares, Clarissa Hayward, Benjamin Justice, and Lisa Miller have contributed.