• About the Institute

    Organizing Knowledge to Challenge Inequality


The UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy advances radical democracy in an unequal world through research, critical thought, and alliances with social movements and racial justice activism. We analyze and transform the divides and dispossessions of our times, in the university and in our cities, across global South and global North.


In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that “the function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.”  For Du Bois, the problem of the 20th century was “the problem of the color-line.” It is knowledge of the color-line, and action against it, that formed his life’s work, both in the university and in the world.

Drawing inspiration from Du Bois and other Black radical and postcolonial thinkers, the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy aims to understand and transform the divides and dispossessions, the color-lines, of the 21st century. At a time of unprecedented income inequality in the United States, we join the growing effort for rigorous analysis of the processes through which such inequality has been produced, that recognizes the corrosive effects of the warehousing of wealth and power on civic life, and that seeks to undo such inequality through new frameworks of redistribution and democratic politics.

In such work, we think across North and South. Instead of the United States as the intellectual pivot of our work, we forge lines of inquiry that take serious notice of the postcolonial world, notably democracies shaped by the claims and demands of poor majorities. Drawing on ideas and practices produced in the unequal cities of India, Brazil, and South Africa, we return to the North Atlantic to examine and dismantle economic austerity and entrenched segregation.

Our research, theory, and pedagogy are produced in the context of resurgent right-wing nationalism, both in the United States and in many other parts of the world. In the age of Trumpism, we have renewed our commitment to challenge white racial domination and build Black and Brown power.

The University of California is an especially propitious home for our institute. Like liberal democracy itself, the public university at once bears the promise of inclusion and manifests the persistence of exclusion.  The public university has an intimate relationship with the “real life” of which Du Bois wrote, and we believe that this intimacy generates a responsibility for public affairs and an impulse to educate a next generation for whom citizenry is not an enclave of privilege but rather shared and collective existence amidst difference.


Ananya Roy

Founding Director

Email: ananya@luskin.ucla.edu
Twitter: @ananyaUCLA

Ananya Roy is Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography and inaugural Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. She holds The Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy. Previously she was on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where she founded and played a leadership role in several academic programs including those concerned with poverty research and poverty action.

Ananya’s research and scholarship has a determined focus on poverty and inequality and lies in four domains: how the urban poor in cities from Kolkata to Chicago face and fight eviction, foreclosure, and displacement; how global financialization, working in varied realms from microfinance to real-estate speculation, creates new markets in debt and risk; how the efforts to manage and govern the problem of poverty reveal the contradictions and limits of liberal democracy; how economic prosperity and aspiration in the global South is creating new potentialities for programs of human development and social welfare.

Ananya is the recipient of several awards including the Paul Davidoff book award, which recognizes scholarship that advances social justice, for Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development (Routledge, 2010); the Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest teaching recognition that the University of California, Berkeley bestows on its faculty; and the Excellence in Achievement award of the Cal Alumni Association, a lifetime achievement award which celebrates her contributions to the University of California and public sphere.

Hannah Appel

Associate Faculty Director

Email: happel@ucla.edu

Hannah Appel is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Global Studies and Associate Faculty Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Hannah’s research and teaching focus on the daily life of capitalism, from the private sector in Africa to the relationship between financialization and household debt in the United States. Rather than assuming the scale or effects of transnational capitalist practices, Hannah takes global capitalism itself as an ethnographic object—what is it, and how could it be otherwise? In addition to publications on the global oil industry, infrastructure as an object of critical theory, and Occupy Wall Street, Hannah’s first book – The Licit Life of Capitalism: US Oil in Equatorial Guinea – explores the offshore, contracts, infrastructures, “the” economy as forms that facilitate diverse capitalist projects around the world. These forms and processes constitute the licit life of capitalism, and they take shape within the raced and gendered histories of colonialism, empire, and white supremacy out of which capitalism emerged. Hannah is at work on a second long-term project on African owned and capitalized banks and financial institutions on the continent.

With a deep commitment to the economic imagination, the future of finance, and the power of social movements, Hannah is also a founding member and organizer of the Debt Collective. The Debt Collective works to build debtors unions through an emancipatory activation of household debt under finance capitalism: What if mass indebtedness is not simply a liability, but also a potential collective asset or leverage point in the fight to enact the new and radical economic forms we need? The Debt Collective’s first debtors’ unions has won over $1 billion dollars in debt discharge for for-profit college student debtors, and Hannah is excited to continue this line of research and action under the auspices of The Future of Finance at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Learn more about Hannah Appel’s work.

Kian Goh

Associate Faculty Director

Email: kiangoh@ucla.edu
Twitter: @kiangoh

Kian Goh is Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and Associate Faculty Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. She researches the relationships between urban ecological design, spatial politics, and social mobilization in the context of climate change and global urbanization. Kian’s current research investigates the spatial politics of urban climate change responses, with fieldwork sites in cities in North America, Southeast Asia, and Europe. More broadly, her research interests include urban theory, urban design, environmental planning, and urban political ecology. As a professional architect, she cofounded design firm SUPER-INTERESTING! and has practiced with Weiss/Manfredi and MVRDV. She previously taught at Northeastern University, the University of Pennsylvania, the New School, and Washington University in St. Louis. Kian received a PhD in Urban and Environmental Planning from MIT, and a Master of Architecture from Yale University.

Kian is the author of the book Form and Flow: The Spatial Politics of Urban Resilience and Climate Justice, published by the MIT Press in 2021. The book investigates the contested power relationships and conflicts around plans proposed by cities to respond to climate change impacts. Exploring sites in New York, Jakarta, and Rotterdam, it traces the global flows of ideas and influence in the production and justification of climate change plans, and the social movements organized against unjust and exclusionary actions.

Other recent publications include articles on urban theory and climate justice in Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, urban planning and the Green New Deal in Journal of the American Planning Association, the politics of urban flooding in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, the global and urban networks of climate change adaptation in Urban Studies, and queer space and activism in Annals of the American Association of Geographers. A second book, Just Urban Design: The Struggle for a Public City, coedited with Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Vinit Mukhija, will be published by the MIT Press.

Liya Kunnathuparambil

Administrative Coordinator

Email: liya@luskin.ucla.edu

Liya Kunnathuparambil is the Administrative Coordinator of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. Having worked at UCLA since 2015, Liya has supported a vast array of programs and initiatives, while building and strengthening working relationships across campus. She has assisted in the development and coordination of national and international colloquia, while also facilitating the production of special events such as a weeklong public lecture series featuring Noam Chomsky.

Before joining the Institute, she was the Chair’s Executive Assistant at the UCLA Royce Humanities Group where she worked closely with French and Francophone Studies, Italian, Germanic Languages and Scandinavian Section, and the Digital Humanities program. In addition to providing direct support to the Chair, she administered all aspects of faculty recruitment, from managing applications through UC Recruit, to arranging travel and itineraries for prospective candidates’ campus visits. She also maintained departmental websites and listservs and managed the onboarding and visa process for visiting scholars and faculty. When serving as the Department Coordinator at UCLA’s Department of Linguistics, Liya managed day-to-day office operations and provided support to both Graduate and Undergraduate Student Affairs Officers by organizing the annual course schedule and being part of the team that coordinated large-scale departmental events such as the Open House for Prospective Students and Undergraduate Commencement Reception.

Liya earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at UCLA and has spent time volunteering with the YWCA’s Domestic Violence Program.

Marisa Lemorande

Deputy Director

Email: mlemorande@luskin.ucla.edu

Marisa Lemorande is Deputy Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. Marisa brings to the Institute many years of experience working with nonprofit, community, and cultural organizations concerned with social justice. By building robust alliances and developing effective communications and fundraising strategies, Marisa has shown leadership and creativity in supporting activists, artists, and scholars, both in Los Angeles and elsewhere in California. A graduate of UCLA, Marisa has served as Program Manager of the UCLA Center for Culture and Health. In this capacity, she managed large federally funded projects, including one of the most diverse and successful programs the NIH has supported over a 25-year grant cycle. Most recently, Marisa held the position of Director of Alumni Relations and Social Media for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. In this role, she implemented a dramatic expansion of the school’s alumni networks and led the most successful crowdfunding campaign in UCLA’s history. Marisa joins the Institute with a sharp analysis of socio-spatial inequality and a passion for community outreach, public scholarship, and policy advocacy.

Sam Lutzker

Graduate Student Researcher

Email: sal2176@ucla.edu
Dept: Sociology

Sam Lutzker is a doctoral student in the department of sociology at UCLA and an organizer with Street Watch LA. His research uses ethnographic and interview methods to examine the effects of homelessness policy in California. He is particularly interested in how informal roles emerge, become established and shift within unhoused communities. His research also follows participants through a variety of housing forms, from living in vehicles to hotel rooms like those contracted through state programs such as Project Roomkey.

In a slightly different vein, his MA project analyzes oral history data from Facing Whiteness to describe how white Americans develop racial awareness and engage in antiracist brokering with white peers. More broadly, his research interests include urban sociology, race & ethnicity, ethnography, mixed methods and public policy.

Prior to graduate school, Sam was a project coordinator at INCITE in New York City, and a teacher in China. He loves hiking, biking and eating. You can find his rants (and sometimes helpful threads) on twitter.

Hilary Malson

Graduate Student Researcher

Email: hmalson@ucla.edu
Dept: Urban Planning

Hilary Malson is a planning and geography scholar whose research focuses on people’s planning histories, Black life, housing justice, migration and displacement, and community building. Since 2017, she has supported initiatives of the Housing Justice in Unequal Cities research coordination network, an NSF-funded program of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. In particular, she managed the publication of numerous open access works, including Housing Justice in Unequal Cities (2019) and the Methodologies for Housing Justice Resource Guide (2020, English / Spanish). Her housing justice related research includes For the Crisis Yet to Come: Temporary Settlements in the Era of Evictions (2020), a publication co-authored with Institute Faculty Collective member Gary Blasi.

Hilary holds a decade of work experience in public history (Smithsonian, National Trust) and community and youth development (Mt. Airy CDC, HOBY DC). She earned a BA in the Growth and Structure of Cities from Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges and a MSc in Urbanization and Development (Distinction) from the London School of Economics and Political Science. At present, Hilary is a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow. Additionally, she serves on the Editorial Board of Critical Planning Journal and the Advisory Board of the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action.

Justin McBride

Graduate Student Researcher

Email: jgmcbride1@ucla.edu
Dept: Urban Planning

Justin McBride is a doctoral student in Urban Planning at UCLA. He works as a Graduate Student Researcher with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, and with the UCLA Downtown Labor Center. Justin’s research focuses on municipal debt as an extractive process, and its effects on communities, residents, and workers of cities in urban regions. Justin also researches for and partners with worker movements, including unions and worker centers, in the Los Angeles area.

Prior to joining the Urban Planning program, Justin was as a union organizer for fifteen years, working primarily with low-wage immigrant workers in a variety of sectors, including laundries, apparel manufacturing, warehousing, janitorial services, and residential construction. His last campaign was with the Clean Carwash Campaign in the Los Angeles area, an innovative organizing effort to assist carwash workers form a union in a decentralized industry built on predation and wage theft. Clean helped workers form unions in over 40 carwashes in the LA area and beyond, and assisted workers to claim millions of dollars that employers had stolen from them.

Justin holds a Master’s degree in Urban & Regional Planning from UCLA, and Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature from Duke University. He currently serves on the boards of the Los Angeles Garment Worker Center and the Koreatown Immigrant Workers’ Alliance. He lectures in the Labor Studies program at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Joel Montano

Data Analyst

Email: jxmontano@gmail.com
Twitter: @jxmontano

Joel Montano is a UCLA Masters in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) candidate whose research focuses on predatory landlord behavior and evictions in Los Angeles. As a recipient of UCLA’s Luskin Leadership Internship Awards Program, he worked with Liberty Hill Foundation in the summer of 2019 to support the passage of a permanent rent control ordinance for Unincorporated Los Angeles County. Prior to UCLA, Joel worked as the Affordable Housing Tenant Outreach Organizer for eight and a half years with the Coalition for Economic Survival—a non-profit tenant’s rights organization based in Los Angeles. He organized with tenants residing in HUD Project-based Section-8 and rent control housing to empower and develop their leadership skills to fight back against poor habitability conditions, inadequate management services, and displacement.

Vania Sciolini

Events and Programs Manager

Email: vsciolini@luskin.ucla.edu

Vania Sciolini is the Events and Programs Manager of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. As an experienced multi-sector program manager, she has successfully run programming, events, and communications to engage diverse audiences in support of public and academic research initiatives. Prior to joining the Institute, Vania designed and managed the branding and communications strategy for the Department of English at UCLA, the largest department of its kind in the nation.

Before coming to UCLA, she supported the development of public research initiatives that centered on ethical governance. At the Berggruen Institute, Vania managed several projects that convened thought leaders, including Nobel prize winners and former heads of state, for comparative inquiry of issues facing humanity in the 21st century. Areas of focus included the ideological and biological transformation of the human and the ethical responsibilities of our unequal systems of governance. Additionally, Vania was responsible for the annual $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture. She was also part of the team that expanded the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking at Stanford University.

Pamela Stephens

Graduate Student Researcher

Email: pstephens@ucla.edu
Dept: Urban Planning

Pamela Stephens is a doctoral student in the Urban Planning Department at UCLA and a Graduate Student Researcher with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. Her work with the Institute largely concerns the relationships between the mechanisms of housing precarity and racial banishment. Similarly, her doctoral studies and research examine how urban planning practices produce Black space and the ways that Black communities build power within and across these spaces. She is particularly interested in how this plays out in the multicultural context of Los Angeles, where the Black population is both declining in number and becoming more dispersed throughout the region and beyond.

Pamela continues to contribute research to forward the advocacy efforts of community-based and social justice-oriented organizations, building off the work she has done prior to pursuing her doctoral studies. While her research has spanned a myriad of topics, it generally focuses on the intersections of space and racial and economic inequality. Most recently, she has collaborated with the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies to provide analytical and mapping support to the Black Census and Redistricting Hub which aims to bolster the political power of Black Californians.

Pamela holds a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA and a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.


Laura S. Abrams

Social Welfare

Leisy J. Abrego

Chicana/o and Central American Studies

Randall Akee

Public Policy

Amada Armenta

Urban Planning

César J. Ayala


Bryonn Bain

African American Studies & World Arts and Cultures/Dance

Gary L. Blasi


Sharon Dolovich


Caroline Ford


Dan Froot

World Arts and Cultures/Dance

Fanna Gamal


Felipe Goncalves


Akhil Gupta


Kelly Lytle Hernández

African American Studies & History

Juan Herrera


Ian W. Holloway

Social Welfare

Grace Hong

Gender Studies & Asian American Studies

Gaye Theresa Johnson

Chicana/o and Central American Studies

Kelly Kay


Robin D.G. Kelley

African American Studies & History

Vinay Lal


Helga Leitner


Michael C. Lens

Public Policy & Urban Planning

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Urban Planning

Michael Manville

Urban Planning

Kyle T. Mays

African American Studies & American Indian Studies & History

Cecilia Menjívar


Paavo Monkkonen

Public Policy & Urban Planning

Paul Ong

Center for Neighborhood Knowledge

Shana L. Redmond


Amy Ritterbusch

Social Welfare

Eric Sheppard


SA Smythe

African American Studies & Gender Studies

Daniel G. Solórzano


Marike Splint

Theater, Film and Television

Shalom Staub

UCLA Center for Community Learning

Zachary C. Steinert-Threlkeld

Public Policy

Chris Tilly

Urban Planning

Karen Umemoto

Asian American Studies & Urban Planning

Alicia Virani


Tria Blu Wakpa

World Arts and Cultures/Dance

Edward T. Walker


Lee Ann S. Wang

Asian American Studies & Social Welfare

Wesley Yin

Public Policy

David K. Yoo

Asian American Studies & History

Noah D. Zatz


Maite Zubiaurre

European Languages and Transcultural Studies & Spanish and Portuguese


Images featured on this website have been generously provided by: Steven Chun, City of Vancouver Archives, Debt Collective, Filomena Cruz, Les Dunseith, Justin Gaar, Angela Garcia, Roberto Gudiño, Aaron Julian, Stan Paul, Right to Remain Collective, UCLA Library Special Collections, Taymaz Valley, Talesha Wilson


The UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy acknowledges the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (the Los Angeles basin and So. Channel Islands). As a land grant institution, we pay our respects to the Honuukvetam (Ancestors), ‘Ahiihirom (Elders) and ‘eyoohiinkem (our relatives/relations) past, present and emerging.

Click on the linked words to hear the pronunciation for the Tongva-language words.