Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Taubman Center

Cities, Citizens and Governance Lecture – The State from Below: Urban Citizenship in Policed Communities

Thursday, May 30, 2019

4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Room 101, Stephen Robert '62 Hall, 280 Brook Street

Reception to follow in Agora of Stephen Robert '62 Hall

Professor Vesla Weaver’s lecture will highlight research that uses new technology to initiate conversations about policing in highly policed communities and discuss what her findings reveal about urban citizenship. Based on over 850 recorded and transcribed conversations across ten neighborhoods in five cities, the lecture reveals four currents that challenge liberal-democratic framings of political life: that an arrangement of distorted responsiveness characterizes the relationship between policed communities and the state; that the political desire of policed communities is not for greater engagement and responsiveness but for political recognition – to be known by the state; that in contrast to prevailing wisdom about uninformed electorates, these citizens have too much knowledge of and too little power vis-à-vis state representatives; and that it has been observed among policed communities that there is an “ethics of aversion” in their political responses, a belief that power is best achieved by receding from state institutions in the short term and forging their own collective, community autonomy in the long term.

This lecture will convene scholars from around the world to engage with one another on the possibilities and challenges of promoting urban citizenship by exploring the structural, institutional, and political processes that cities develop to incorporate or exclude existing and aspiring citizens.

Vesla Mae Weaver (Phd, Harvard, Government and Social Policy) is the Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Political Science and Sociology at Johns Hopkins University and a 2016-17 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. She has contributed to scholarly debates around the persistence of racial inequality, colorism in the United States, the causes and consequences of the dramatic rise in prisons, and the consequences of rising economic polarization. Despite being advised that punishment was not a core concern of political science during her early years as a graduate student, Weaver argued that punishment and surveillance was central to American citizenship in the modern era, played a major role in the post-war expansion of state institutions, was a key aspect of how mostly disadvantaged citizens interact with government, and was a political “frontlash” to make an end-run around civil rights advances.

Authoring the first article in nearly two decades on the topic of punishment to be published in her discipline’s top journal, she shortly thereafter published an award-winning book with Amy Lerman, Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control, the first large-scale empirical study of what the tectonic shifts in incarceration and policing meant for political and civic life in communities where it was concentrated.

Weaver is also the co-author of Creating a New Racial Order: How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America (with J. Hochschild and T. Burch). Her research has been supported by fellowships from the Russell Sage Foundation, National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Brookings Institution. She has served on the Harvard/NIJ Executive Session on Community Corrections, the APSA Presidential Taskforce on Racial Inequality in the Americas, and the Center for Community Change’s Good Jobs for All initiative and has written in the New York Times, Boston Review, Marshall Project, and Slate.