Jamila Michener: Uncivil Democracy: Race, Class, and Civil Legal Inequality


Monday, April 5, 2021, 12:15pm to 1:15pm



Jamila Michener, Associate Professor of Government, Cornell University.

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Jamila MichenerCivil legal institutions (including civil courts, legal aid organizations, and grassroots community groups that advocate around civil legal issues) play a crucial role in protecting economic and social rights. This has proven even more true in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the eviction crisis it exacerbated. Despite the vital role of civil legal institutions—particularly in low-income communities of color— social scientists have much to learn about their positioning within the larger American political economy.

This research examines the democratic repercussions of civil legal institutions. Drawing on data from ethnographic observation and in-depth qualitative interviews (with lawyers, members of grassroots organizations, and low-income people), we examine whether and how civil legal institutions affect political life in race-class subjugated communities. Our qualitative assessment reveals multifaceted and multidimensional dynamics that link civil legal institutions to political power at the racial and economic margins.

About the speaker

Jamila Michener is  Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University. Her research focuses on poverty, racial inequality, and public policy in the United States.

She is co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity, co-director of the Politics of Race, Immigration, Class, and Ethnicity (PRICE) initiative, and board-chair of the Cornell Prison Education Program.

Professor Michener studies American politics and policy, with a particular focus on the political causes and consequences of poverty and racial inequality. Her work explores the conditions under which economically and racially disadvantaged groups engage in the political process, the effects of that engagement, and the role of the state in shaping the political and economic trajectories of marginalized communities.

Fragmented Democracy, by Jamila MichenerHer recent book, Fragmented Democracy: Medicaid, Federalism and Unequal Politics (Cambridge University Press) examines how Medicaid--the nation’s public health insurance program for people with low income--affects democratic citizenship. Unpacking how federalism transforms Medicaid beneficiaries’ interpretations of government and structures their participation in politics, Fragmented Democracy assesses American political life from the vantage point(s) of those who are living in or near poverty, (disproportionately) Black or Latino, and reliant on a federated government for vital resources.  

Michener’s research has been supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Ford Foundation. 

She received her MA and PhD from the University of Chicago and her undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Prior to working at Cornell, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholar at the University of Michigan.

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See also: Spring 2021