The State From Below: Racial Authoritarianism in US Democracy



Vesla Weaver, Johns Hopkins University

Date and Time

April 7, 2021 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM


RSVP Required.


Virtual Seminar

* Please note all CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.


Seminar Recording:


About the Event: In The State from Below, we seek to understand democracy through ground-up knowledge of the state. We use a new technology and civic infrastructure, Portals, to initiate conversations about policing in communities where these forms of state action are concentrated.  Portals are virtual chambers where people in disparate communities can converse as if in the same room.  Based on over 850 recorded and transcribed conversations across fourteen neighborhoods in five cities – the most extensive collection of first-hand accounts of the police to date – we analyze patterns in political discourse.  We reveal 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; and 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.  Finally, we observe among policed communities 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. At a broader level, we observe that it is not exclusion from democratic institutions that characterizes political inequality in our time, but inclusion in what we call racial authoritarianism, and the experience of misrecognition that results.



About the Speaker: Vesla Mae Weaver 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 police power for race-class subjugated communities. She is co-author with Amy Lerman of 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). She is at work on a new book, The State From Below, based on the largest archive of policing narratives using an innovative civic infrastructure called Portals (

Share this Event