In Case You Missed It: The Social Justice Series

This year’s Social Justice Series is in full swing at American University. It kicked off on September 19th with Professor Cathy Schneider. The series highlights the work of anthropologists who are committed to issues of social justice. Many of the speakers are from our own AU community or nearby schools. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about current research projects and see what public anthropology looks like in action. If you haven’t been able to join us yet this semester check out the summaries below for all the speakers you’ve missed.


Cathy Schneider, Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University, kicked off the Social Justice Colloquium series with her talk Perceived Powerlessness and Riots. Professor Schneider began researching racialized policing and riots several years ago after police violence in France caused riots while she was living in the country. Since then she has travelled to Ferguson, Baltimore, and NYC to interview family members of people murdered by the police and activists organizing in their communities. With this topic now at the forefront our country’s social justice agenda, Schneider is attempting to shed light on some of the mystery surrounding community riots by examining community relations with police forces, relevant legislation and community activism,  and the occurrence of riots in some cities but not all. Professor Schneider recently published a book on the topic entitled Police Power and Race Riots: Urban Unrest in Paris and New York.

Tracy Howard, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Howard University, joined us for the second SJC to speak about the origins of the environmental justice movement. Dr. Howard challenged current understandings of the movement including the common and powerful narrative that the movement began with a protest in Warren County, NC. While Howard acknowledges the significance of this moment as an important union between the civil rights and environmental justice movements she suggests that the beginnings of the origins are actually far more complex. She points to separate activist movements, the majority of which took place in California without knowledge of Warren County, as evidence of this complexity. In reality, she argued, the environmental justice movement started as a grassroots, multi-racial coalition that was willing to commit mass civil disobedience in effort to meet the needs of their communities.

An integral part of the American University Anthropology department, Dr. Dolores Koenig presented at our third SJC event. Dr. Koenig has pursued social justice as a professor at the school since 1980. Her writing and research have recently focused on involuntary resettlement due to infrastructure development, and at the October 3rd colloquium she shared some of her research concerning displacement due to the Manantali Dam on the Bafing River in Western Mali. Her presentation highlighted many of the ways resettlement on this project sought to serve the interests of those forced to leave their homes, while also recognizing the inadequacy of the land provided to effectively sustain the population for more than a few years. She spoke to the ways in which recognizing the needs, as well as the perceptions of populations facing forced resettlement is necessary in the pursuit of social justice.


If you’d like to know more about our upcoming speakers you can check out the list here. The Social Justice Series takes place every Monday at 4pm in Battelle 228. Coffee and light refreshments are always served. In consideration of the environment, please bring your mug. We look forward to seeing you there!

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