Political Sociology and the Global South Working Group

With generous assistance from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, the Political Sociology and the Global South working group has been a success in advancing research, critical thought, and alliances on issues in the Global South. Our working group, led by a group of graduate student coordinators across the social sciences, is an intellectual community of graduate students and scholars who share interests on the intersecting issues of Global South socioeconomic development and underdevelopment, political and social movements, labor, and state-society relations. Our working group is open to all regardless of enrollment status. In the fall quarter, we had two students — Leydy Diossa and Emma Colven — present drafts of their paper while also hosting professors —William Robinson, from UC-Santa Barbara, and Steven McKay, from UC- Santa Cruz. We followed the fall quarter with a strong winter quarter that had three students — Joel Herrera, Pei Palgren, and Andrew Le — present their work while three external speakers — Phillip Hough from Florida Atlantic University, Aihwa Ong from Berkeley, and Yen Le Espiritu from UC- San Diego — also came to our working group. We plan on completing the academic year with Summer Gray, Leslie Salzinger, and Vivek Chibber visiting us from their respective universities along with student presentations by Cory Mengual and Dan Zipp. We will cap the year off with a mini-conference that connects with themes of our working group and the Institute.

By: Kenton Card, Matias Fernandez, Andrew N. Le, Urban Planning and Sociology.

Who Owes What to Whom? From For-Profit Colleges to Payday Lenders: Next Steps in the Debtors Movement

Professor: Hannah Appel, Anthropology

Project Description: The Debt Collective is a team of debtors, organizers, technologists, media, and legal experts that is building a platform to allow members — whether they are low-wage workers, mortgage holding families, people caught up in the court and human caging system or struggling former college students — to renegotiate, resist, and refuse unfair debts. Leveraging the collective power of mass indebtedness, we offer debtors a shared platform for organization, advocacy, and direct action. We are building debtors unions. Alone, our debts are a burden; together, they make us powerful.

Income Inequality and Income Mobility for American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

Professor: Randall Akee, Public Policy

Project Description: This project investigates the well-known phenomenon of increasing income inequality and reduced economic mobility in the U.S. in recent years.[1] The analysis is novel in that we are able to separate out differences across the major race and ethnic groups in the U.S. Previous researchers have been unable to conduct this type of analysis given the relatively small sample sizes in survey data for certain race and ethnic groups. This table shows the discrepancies across the race and ethnic groups in terms of the top and bottom shares of income distribution in the United States for the years 2000 and 2014.

The share of income accruing to the top 10 percent of the population of all tax filers was about 41 percent in 2000 and 40 percent in 2014. Looking across the columns for 2000, about 90 percent of the income that accrued to the top 10 percent of tax filers went to Whites, while about 2.5 percent went to Hispanics, 2.1 percent to Blacks, 0.25 percent to American Indians, and 5.3 percent to Asians. At the bottom of the panel, we report the proportion of the population of each of these groups for our restricted sample of tax filers ages 25–65. Comparing the share of the population to the share of income accruing to each group provides an additional measure of inequality. Whites received a strongly disproportionate share of top income, while Asians received slightly more than their proportionate share. Meanwhile Hispanics, Blacks, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and Others accrued less than their proportionate share of total income in the top 10 percent. Looking at Panel B (2014), there are noticeable changes over time: The share accruing to Whites decreased to about 84 percent and the share for Hispanics increased to 4 percent. However, the proportion of Whites in the population decreased to about 70 percent, while Hispanics increased to about 13 percent. Asians realized an increase to an 8 percent share while Blacks, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders did not realize any noticeable changes at the top 10 percent over this time period.

This analysis is repeated for the Top 1%, Top 0.1% and the Bottom 1% in the income distribution.

 Full working paper is available at:

[1] This draft is released to inform interested parties of research and to encourage discussion. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Global Youth Justice: Defining Criminal Responsibility in Law and Practice

Professor: Laura Abrams, Social Welfare

Project Description: The goal of this study is to investigate the historical development and implementation of policies and practices related to age and youth justice. We will look at variation in definitions and constructions of age and criminal responsibility, the ways that these policies and practices are currently in flux due to discourses of neo-liberalism, extended age of adolescence, and neuroscience, and what these cases can teach the U.S. about de-incarceration. Purposively selecting four nations as case studies,we pose the following questions: 1)How are “children,” “youth,” “young adults,” and “adults” distinguished, discursively and practically, within global criminal justice systems? 2)How do state-level policies and institutional practices reflect these constructions? 3)What blend of political, economic, or social factors are driving changes and controversies in the policy arena concerning youth justice? 4)How do stakeholders, including policy makers, practitioners, and currently and formerly incarcerated youth view the effectiveness of these policies and practices in promoting youth well being and public safety?

The goal will be to delve into definitions, meanings, and formulations of strategies to address the problem of youth offending in locations with a diverse range of policies and services for young offenders. Four countries have been selected reflecting various combinations of the age of juvenile justice jurisdiction and the age of criminal majority. These four countries will include: a) England/Wales(lower ages in both categories, yet special young offender institutions for 18-21 year olds);b) Belize(low age of juvenile justice jurisdiction and low age of criminal majority); c) Finland (high age of both categories; child welfare involvement for youth under 15, and special provisions for 18-20 year olds); and d) Argentina, (high age of juvenile justice jurisdiction, low age of criminal majority).These four countries represent unique strategies and challenges in their approach to reducing peak age offending .

The findings provide insight into how the category of “juvenile” is conceptualized and delineated within diverse youth justice systems. Read the draft report on this study (paper under review: please do not cite without author’s permission): What is a juvenile? A cross-national comparison of youth justice systems

Recapping our Housing and Activism Series: Despite the Contentious Past, Presenting Hope for the Future

Public Housing and Activism series brought together community members, activists, academics and public officials to discuss the thorny intersection of displacement, environmental justice, and housing policy.

The 2016–2017 Housing and Activism series, produced with our partners at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate, strove to center stage the people that have lived and are living through the massive federal policy change away from public housing developments. The series started with a look back at the city considered the epicenter for public housing demolition — Chicago — hearing the perspective of former and current residents who witnessed the near wholesale displacement of their community at Cabrini Green. The second installment focused on LA’s own plans for demolition with a conversation on the much debated and awaited Jordan Downs redevelopment. The final event returned to another community that famously fought the loss of its public housing units — Boyle Heights with Pico Aliso — this time addressing the displacement by the private market that threatens the community today.

Adding to the in-house academic researchers at UCLA, this series sought knowledge from the field. We heard from a filmmaker, an artist-activist, four community members, two community organizers, a Housing Authority Executive Director, and the Executive Chair of a Neighborhood Council. This made for an unfiltered perspective about lived experiences. By the consistently standing-room-only turnout and the humbled hush throughout each panel, it was evident that this perspective is too rarely heard here. Researchers and students listened eagerly and panelists spoke honestly about the policies affecting them. The dialogue was productive without avoiding the fact that this kind of exchange, between policy advocates and communities, is too few and far between.

Lewis Center Associate Director Mike Lens reflected, “we have all heard the phrase that ‘those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.’ Hearing from community members in Cabrini Green and Jordan Downs was a powerful opportunity to better understand those historical ties. And as we continued with Boyle Heights — I have never had a class discussion follow up on a public event that was more layered and engaging. I hope we can continue to provide our students and faculty with these opportunities to learn from and listen to a diversity of perspectives in the communities for which we work and think.”

Given the topic — the forced removal or threat of removal from one’s home with a dash of environmental injustice — emotions ran high, but the speakers all maintained a high level of discourse and courtesy. The conversations included a range of opinions, some competing interest groups, and plenty of room for disagreement among panelists. With by no means a monolithic perspective being presented by the community members, some moments might have taken place at a public hearing or community meeting. The high level of decorum yet raw candor demonstrated the potential for planners to work more closely with communities. As a series designed to give community members the mic, it showed that a community engagement format built around listening first, rather than presenting a plan first works.

November 16: 70 Acres in Chicago

(L to R) Raymond ‘Shaq’ McDonald, Michael Lens, and Ronit Bezalel

70 Acres in Chicago is a retrospective documentary that follows residents of Chicago’s Cabrini Green high-rises as they are demolished and replaced with another social experiment: mixed income neighborhoods. The screening was followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker and former and current residents who experienced the comprehensive displacement. Lewis Center Associate Director and Urban Planning Associate Professor Mike Lens, framed the discussion with a crash course in 90 years of public housing. He described the theoretical claim undergirding public housing redevelopment: income mixing — that middle class households will positively impact their lower income neighbors and vice-versa. This hypothesis molded the low density mixed-income townhouses of the new Cabrini Green that replaced the maligned high rise towers.

The conversation revolved around the disappointing research findings on mixed income housing: minimal interaction across lines of race and class and large drops in neighborhood trust and cohesion, metrics that have been shown to protect
against crime and violence. Panelists echoing the scholarship, described a lack of cultural competency, respect and humility among new higher income neighbors. Debate centered on whether income-mixed development is a good idea that just hasn’t been implemented correctly or is a false, paternalistic policy promise. With its proximity to high value downtown real estate, some residents believe that Cabrini Green was exploited for private gain and indeed the area has seen a leap in primary residential sales. Audience members drew the parallel to LA’s Jordan Downs in Watts. The panelists encouraged those involved with Jordan Downs to organize residents, “keep your networks, stay close to family … occupy the land,” and to emphasize solutions.

70 Acres in Chicago Info Sheet

January 26: Jordan Downs and South LA

(L to R) Thelmy Perez translates for Jordan Downs resident, Dolores Almazan

Jordan Downs is a public housing development home to 2,600 residents in Watts that is slated for transformation into an “urban village.” This years-long redevelopment effort is one of the largest public works projects in Los Angeles and will contain 1,400 mixed-income residential units, shops, a park, and a community center. Jordan Downs touches on a host of hot-button issues for Los Angeles, and the country generally. To begin, spending on public housing has been down nationwide for years, and the decline in funding is felt keenly in places like seven-decade-old Jordan Downs. Panelists raised questions of priority and equity, noting that the $700 million – $1 billion budget for this one project is significantly more than the estimated $500 million needed to refurbish every public housing unit in Los Angeles. There were also questions about how this investment — and in particular the addition of 700 market-rate apartments — might change the character of Watts.

While the plan is phased in order to avoid the kind of displacement these redevelopments are known for, residents are equally as concerned about remaining on-site: it is former industrial land with dangerous levels of lead and other toxic chemicals, and the tensions over how to clean the site before work begins have run high. At the heart of the conversation was the nature of trust and engagement. Guthrie noted that the final Jordan Downs Master Plan was the result of more than 100 public meetings and review sessions, and some residents in the audience said they were excited for work to finally get underway. But other residents highlighted the decisions they were not allowed to meaningfully participate in, such as changes to tenancy agreements or the extent of the remediation of toxic chemicals around the site. While expressing optimism and acknowledging some cooperation from the city, residents urged more transparency and continued meetings as the demolition looms.

May 9: Resisting Displacement in Boyle Heights

The final installment was a partnership with a masters student working group called “Our Hoods, Our Stories.” The panel came out of the students’ question ‘how do we think about urban planning today, complicit as it is historically in manufacturing and often perpetuating inequality?’ The Boyle Heights community saw the forced removal of residents with the demolition of the neighborhood’s Pico-Aliso public housing projects in 1997. They are now facing displacement again, this time at the hands of the private market. Residents are acutely aware of the art-oriented development, often called “artwashing,” that has taken place downtown and threatens to spread to neighboring Boyle Heights.

Panelists recounted how the community has come together to address failures in city service provision on its own. They detailed their deliberate efforts to walk the line between useful community improvements and investments that might attract the attention of developers. Audience members asked about the role of students and faculty in gentrification, how city policies have hurt or helped, and how educators should approach communities undergoing displacement. Panelists took the opportunity to refute accusations of anti white violence on the part of Boyle Heights activists. Pointing to the neighborhood’s long history of top down “renewal” efforts defined by the Pico Aliso housing development and unresolved environmental injustice issues, the community’s defensive stance is learned: “whenever you say ‘yes, but’ you start negotiating your defeat. So we say no.” The urban planning students in the room, cognizant of their field’s historic complicity in marginalizing urban agendas, were eager to hear how not to perpetuate their field’s conflicted legacy. The advice: “Listen. As planners, you don’t know everything. You’re there to help facilitate. Usually the community knows how to solve their problems. Come talk to us and listen.”

Ananya Roy, Director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, who moderated the Boyle Heights panel, framed the series as rooting the traditional work of the university–documenting and theorizing–in community organizing work on the ground, calling community organizing the “reality that generates the conceptual frameworks needed for change.” By not asking to hear again from academic “experts” on community level dynamics, the series highlighted community knowledge as an expertise and the real, although often missing, sustenance of professional planners. In demonstrating the value of dialogue between academia and communities, the series hopes to inspire more of it.

By:  Madeline Brozen, Associate Director for External Relations at UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies

#ChallengeIneq Newsletter

In this newsletter, our very first, we share glimpses of our work…

The Displacement Alert Project Map

The DAP Map is a building-by-building, web-based interactive map designed to show where residential tenants may be facing significant displacement pressures and where affordable apartments are most threatened across New York City. It is a publicly accessible, interactive data visualization of residential buildings and neighborhood conditions throughout New York City. The DAP Map is meant […]

Resource Guide for Resistance

The UCLA Abolitionist Planning Group produced a resource guide that outlines their first steps to understand Trumpism as a moment in United States politics. Committed to a philosophy of abolitionism, they seek to understand how urban planning, as discipline and professional practice, can analyze and address the systematic oppressions expanded and institutionalized by the new administration.

The Making of A Movement

Funmilola Fagbamila, our 2017 Activist-in-Residence, discusses the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement, the importance of recalling and writing this history, and the transformation of social justice activism under the current political regime.

Video of “Judith Butler: This is What Resistance Looks Like”

We are delighted to share the complete video of “Judith Butler: This is What Resistance Looks Like” that took place on February 15, 2017 at  Luskin School of Public Affairs, UCLA.

Guest lecture featuring:


Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley

About RAVE:

RAVE (Resistance Against Violence Through Education) is a faculty group dedicated to mobilizing the power of knowledge and critical analysis to challenge the normalization of the politics, language, and actions of Donald Trump’s presidency. We pledge to take responsibility for, support, and defend vigorously all vulnerable members of our communities who were deliberately targeted in the lead up to the election of Donald Trump, and who are now victims of hate in its wake—members of the community who are undocumented, victims of sexual assault, people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims and other religious minorities, immigrants, the disabled, and women. We will not silently bear witness but will fight back by producing knowledge, constructing alliances, and building system-wide coalitions across the University of California.


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