Meet Our 2018-2019 CES Fellows
The Center for Engaged Scholarship, a project of Community Initiatives, is pleased to announce our 2018-2019 fellows. These five winners will receive $25,000 to support the writing of their Ph.D. dissertations.
Deisy Del Real
Deisy Del Real analyzes how the Latin American nations belonging to Mercosur—a regional trade agreement—developed policies to protect citizens who migrate from one Mercosur nation to another. She shows how these agreements provide greater protection to transnational migrants than the rules in place in the U.S. or the European Community.
Idit Fast studies three public elementary schools in New York City that are implementing a new ‘diversity initiative’ designed to reverse the pattern of continuing school segregation by race and class. Her focus is on what works to overcome the distrust that exists between parents of different races and different social classes.
Chris Herring is currently writing a study of the three key aspects of homelessness in the US metropolis: the streets, the shelter, and the policies pursued by city government. He analyzes the factors that determines who sleeps in the street or in shelters, and he provides a powerful critique of existing government policies.
Madeleine Pape analyzes how governing bodies reassert sex as binary and biological despite alternative notions becoming more credible as a result of transgender, intersex, queer, and feminist activism and scholarship. She focuses on how the governing organizations in track and field establish the criteria for deciding who is eligible to compete as a woman.
Athanasia Vgontzas investigates the organization of work in the fulfillment warehouses of large online retail firms. By comparing both work organization and resistance in warehouses in the U.S. and Germany, she is illuminating how new technologies constrain workers. Yet she is also looking for strategies through which these employees could exert pressure for better compensation and working conditions.
2018-2019 Honorable Mentions
‘A Crusade Against the Despoiler of Virtue’: Black Women, Social Purity and the Gendered Politics of the Negro Problem, 1840-1920
My research explores how the sexual ethics of black women shaped women’s rights activism and Progressive moral reform in the United States. Covering the period between 1840 and 1920, it charts the rise of the Social Purity movement, from its grassroots origins to state power, and argues it was sustained by discursively naturalizing the sexual exploitability of black women.
The Social Purity movement – a euphemism for sexual purity – emerged during Reconstruction as white anxieties over a society facing moral decline intensified. Mobilized by middle-class white women, purists campaigned to ban prostitution, raise the age of sexual consent and eradicate the sexual double standard. Yet, despite their extreme vulnerability to sexual exploitation and abuse, black women were marginalized from the movement. Paradoxically, mainstream women’s rights rested on white women’s defenselessness as it was constructed upon racialized ideas of who qualifies for female political empowerment and sexual protection, and who does not.
My dissertation highlights this crucial tension point in US women’s history. Beginning in slavery it argues that black women fashioned a moral tradition and mode of gendered activism around chastity that achieved mainstream political urgency by the late nineteenth century. Unlike their white counterparts, enslaved and free black women applied ideals of chastity to their strategies of resistance and struggles for sexual self-sovereignty in a society that denied them sexual moral agency, the expectation of patriarchal protection, and access to ideals of womanhood.
My project thus highlights the racialized dichotomy upon which social purity rested. It recovers the role that black women’s struggles for sexual self-sovereignty played in this movement, and fundamentally reveals how disenfranchised female communities have deployed gendered conservative ideals for radical ends.
Regulating Poverty: Race, Business, and the Politics of Payday Lending, 1990-2015
Faced with welfare retrenchment, rising income volatility, and an exponential increase in housing costs, the U.S. working class relies on credit to make ends meet. For millions with no or low credit scores, this credit comes in the form of high-cost cash advances such as payday or auto-title loans. When these products are loosely regulated, borrowers—who are disproportionately poor and Black or Latina/o—experience extended periods of indebtedness that exacerbate existing racial wealth inequalities.
The regulation of markets that low-income households rely on to survive financially is an overlooked political arena with significant consequences for inequality. Policies such as payday lending regulation straddle two different domains—regulatory policy and welfare policy. In policy-making processes, borrowers’ preferences compete against concentrated business interests and racialized stigmas associated with debt and financial hardship.
My dissertation identifies the conditions under which state-level payday lending regulation changes in ways that reduce inequality. To analyze these dynamics, I construct an original dataset of payday lending regulation across all 50 states from 1990 through 2015. I also generate a novel measure of the financial risk faced by borrowers under different regulatory configurations. Using in-depth interviews, public hearing transcripts, roll call voting records, and demographic data, I examine the advocacy strategies, policy discourse, and patterns of political support in cases of attempted and successful policy change across place and time.
This project identifies the racial and social dynamics that shape the politics of payday lending regulation. More broadly, the project speaks to the challenges and possibilities of policy-making when target populations are affected by stigmatized experiences such as debt, addiction, or incarceration.
Vacant Geographies: (Dis)possession, Resistance, and Speculative Futures in Philadelphia’s Abandoned Properties
Abandoned lots and buildings are a ubiquitous feature of post-industrial U.S. cities, markers of the recent housing crisis, and perennial sources of concern for policymakers, researchers, and residents alike. In Philadelphia, where some neighborhoods are currently experiencing a development boom, properties deemed to be ‘vacant’ are increasingly contested as residents challenge prevailing understandings of ‘highest and best use.’
Using archival, legal, and participatory research, my research examines emerging conflicts over the use, value, and ownership of these spaces. In doing so, it puts forward a politically productive framework for considering geographies of vacancy, which recognizes that not only are vacant properties not empty or stable, but they do critical work.
These properties reflect the violent processes that produce them, but also reveal the limits to these processes – limits that offer analytical openings for destabilizing normative notions of law, private property, and urban commons.
Angela M. Simms
Power, Privilege, and Peril: The Politics of the Black Middle Class in a Majority-Black and Majority-Middle Class Suburban County
To understand how Blacks’ politics shape and are shaped by the contemporary political economy, I ask the questions: In a suburban county where Blacks are the population majority, and where they have significant legislative and executive authority, how is the political agenda developed? What are the policy priorities? Who benefits from these priorities? I focus on three domains: (1) budget development, (2) land use policy and economic development, and (3) public schools.
My data are ethnographic, including direct observation of policy and budget deliberation processes and interviews with people involved in Prince George’s County (PGC), Maryland, politics. I also interview non-politically-engaged residents.
PGC is a majority-Black and middle class suburban county of just under one million residents. It borders Washington, D.C., and has the largest concentration of middle-class Blacks in the United States.