Our First Year of Research and Programs

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin is proud to report on its first year of research and programs. Concerned with inequality in both the United States and worldwide, the Institute seeks to challenge—through scholarship, art, and collective action, and in partnership with social justice movements—the color-lines of the 21st century.  In this newsletter, our very first, we share glimpses of our work. We also invite you to visit our website for more detailed stories, news, and videos.

The topic of income inequality dominates headlines and fuels social protest and political discontent. But as demonstrated by the recent research of Professor Randall Akee, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, such income inequality has distinctive racial-ethnic patterns. In a path-breaking analysis combining Census and IRS data, Akee and his colleagues reveal that a disproportionate share of income accrues to whites, including in the top ranks of income distribution.

The question of racialized inequality is central to the work of the Institute and is evident in our three main research themes: Evictions, Displacement, and Homelessness in the Global City; Financialization, Debt, and Financial Disobedience; and Policing and Incarceration.

For example, in a stunning visualization of the geographies of the carceral state, Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Associate Professor of History, and Marques Vestal, doctoral student in History, highlight the “million dollar hoods” of Los Angeles, the neighborhoods where the LA Sheriff’s Department and the LA Police Department spend the most on incarceration.

It is in the face of such entrenched exclusion that we strive to support research and activism to challenge inequality. We celebrate the recent victories regarding student debt by the Debt Collective.  As outlined by Professor Hannah Appel, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, such debtors’ unions build collective power to contest finance capitalism, and they demonstrate that “alone, our debts are a burden; together, they make us powerful.”

In order to strengthen the relationship between research and activism, earlier this year, the Institute, with support from the Irvine Foundation, launched its first Activist-in-Residence program.  Our inaugural fellow, Funmilola Fagbamila, is Arts & Culture Director of Black Lives Matter LA and a playwright and artist in her own right. Her residency at the Institute explicitly tackled anti-blackness and what it might mean to be “woke” to a politics of black freedom, especially at the present political conjuncture of resurgent white nationalism and authoritarian populism.

“Sing-Along” Photo By: UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

What is the role of an institute concerned with inequality and democracy in the age of Trumpism? For the past few months, this has been an important animating question for us as we build resistance to state-sponsored violence against targeted bodies and communities. On January 18, our call to Teach.Organize.Resist., as a protest of the presidential inauguration, was echoed in over a hundred different forms of action at universities across the United States and beyond. Through public scholarship, video animations, and public lectures by scholars such as Judith Butler, we continue to expand the front-lines of struggle. We also contend that the university itself is a terrain of struggle and that we must decolonize our forms of knowledge and formats of pedagogy. Take for example, the student-organized course on “Abolitionist Planning,” which serves a model and resource for building new curriculum attentive to the urgent challenges of our times.

Finally, we recognize that, as an endowed research Institute at a prestigious public university with global reach, we are a participant in the very forms of inequality that we seek to dismantle. Our ongoing investigations of wealth and power include a nascent forum on Wealth, Inequality, and Philanthropy, through which we take up the complex relationship between social change, grassroots mobilization, and powerful institutions, whether they be foundations or universities. Put another way, we do not spare ourselves the critical scrutiny to which we subject the world and other social actors.


 Ananya Roy, Director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, and Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography

 Jocelyn Guihama, Deputy Director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin

 Cristina Barrera, Communications and Community Outreach Associate of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin