Working Groups

Democracy Working Groups -- 2022-23

Economic Inequality

Convened by James Harrigan, Anton Korinek and Eric Young (Economics)

We are researchers with different specializations within economics who share an interest in understanding the causes and consequences of economic inequality in the United States. We are also concerned with the feedback between political polarization and economic inequality. The core of our working group will be regular informal lunchtime meetings involving faculty and graduate students from around the university who are interested in economic inequality. We will also host external speakers from the academy, think tanks, journalism, and policy-making institutions. We will ask our visitors to present their ideas in research seminars, public lectures that are accessible to the entire university community, and in classroom visits in our courses. We are acutely aware that economic inequality has racial and gender dimensions, and our invited speakers will reflect a diverse range of views, backgrounds, and experiences.

A gift from Mary Ellen P. Barton and Scott Barton is supporting this working group during the 2022-23 year.

Local Equity and Democracy

Convened by Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner (Politics), Peter Johannessen (Batten), Angel Parham (Sociology), Richard Schragger (Law), Barbara Brown Wilson (Urban Planning)

Democracy is experienced and built in local communities: in the places where we live, work, raise families, consume public goods, and cast our ballots; and in the streets we take to, the public spaces we occupy. But local communities are rife with inequalities, divided by class and race, by neighborhoods, by patterns of surveillance and violence, by vulnerabilities to climate change, by access to essential public services in education, housing, healthcare, and more. The Local Equity and Democracy (LEAD) Working Group aims to explore the challenges of inequality in and to local democracy. We ask: How is inequality produced, sustained, and challenged at the local level? How are experiences of local democracy refracted through intersecting social, economic, and political inequalities? What kinds of institutional innovations and citizenship practices are most conducive to crafting an equitable political community across social and political divides? In sum: What can be done to both deepen local democracy and build local equity? We explore these questions in and across local communities in three large, diverse, federal democracies, all grappling with the challenges of inequality: the United States, Brazil, and India. Our approach is driven by a commitment to comparative methodologies, which we employ cross-nationally, across settings in the global north and south; sub-nationally, from metropoles to rural communities; and across different scholarly fields and epistemologies. Our work is also grounded in a commitment to community engagement, and to the democratization of research—that is, to the principle that scholarship on and about local communities must also be for and with local communities. By pulling together scholars and community partners from the U.S., Latin America, and South Asia, we seek to spark a series of global but locally grounded conversations about the relationship between local democracy and inequality. 

A gift from Mary Ellen P. Barton and Scott Barton is supporting this working group during the 2022-23 year.

Local Knowledge

Convened by Rebecca Coleman (UVA Library)

The Local Knowledge Working Group is interested in the ways and means by which our local community collects and accesses information about our regional past and present. Recognizing that free exchange of information is essential to democracy and civic engagement, our group seeks to both examine and expand opportunities for openly collecting and sharing historical and contemporary information that can inform both discourse and policy. Funding will provide our group with the opportunity to build and leverage community partnerships through three areas of activity: the promotion of Cvillepedia as a free and open tool for sharing and accessing local research, the documentation of an environmental scan of our local “information ecosystem,” and the production of a half-day symposium featuring local researchers on the topic of “democratizing local information.”

A gift from Mary Ellen P. Barton and Scott Barton is supporting this working group during the 2022-23 year.

Paradoxes of Ancient Citizenship

Convened by Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne (Classics), Elizabeth Meyer (History), George Klosko (Politics) and Tyler Jo Smith (Art)

The United States today is facing a citizenship crisis.  Who is allowed to be a citizen?  Who deserves to be a citizen?  What are the rights and responsibilities of resident non-citizens?  All of these questions are at heart about what a citizen in a participatory democracy is and does, and how such a citizen is different from a citizen of any other state.  Many of these questions were asked in antiquity as well, and to examine them in (especially) smaller ancient states, where issues are more visible, reveals a spectrum of definitions, a variety of tensions and dynamics, and arresting stories of what worked and what did not.  They can also add nuance and deeper understanding to modern discussions.  This year-long working group hopes to examine many different aspects of Greek and Roman citizenship (and lesser statuses):  the value of legal and political definitions (the standard sphere in which ancient citizenship has traditionally been studied); how citizenship is performed, lived, and ‘displayed’ through art and the spaces of the city; how citizenship might have been taught, or inculcated, through basic education and religious practices; why ancients valued citizenship, and what it meant to them; and the extent to which ‘the wisdom of crowds’ was esteemed in both practice and political theory.

A gift from Mary Ellen P. Barton and Scott Barton is supporting this working group during the 2022-23 year.

Black & Indigenous Feminist Futures Institute (BIFFI) Working Group

Convened by Sonia Alconini (Anthropology), Kasey Jernigan (American Studies/Anthropology), Tiffany King (Women, Gender and Sexuality)

This Working Group will lay the groundwork for building new and strengthening existing relationships among scholars, artists, community organizers, and practitioners using intersectional feminist approaches in their work with Black and Indigenous communities.  BIFFI works to advance the following goals:

  • Promote interdisciplinary research, scholarship, and cultural production that elevates intersectional feminist Black and Indigenous Studies through a “Fellows-in-Residence” program that hosts elders, artists, scholars, organizers, and practitioners at UVA.
  • Offer intensive instruction in intersectional feminist Black and Indigenous theories, methods, curricular design, pedagogies, and community building work through Summer Institutes.
  • Establish the first “Black and Indigenous Studies Certificate Program” in the US South at UVA.

The Black & Indigenous Feminist Futures Institute's first two fellows will be in residence at UVA in October 2022.

Indigenous Studies

Convened by faculty and staff including including Allison Bigelow (Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese), Federico Cuatlacuatl (Nahua; Art), Adriana Greci Green (Fralin Museum of Art), Worthy Martin (Computer Science/IATH), Teresa Pollak (Monacan Indian Nation), Lauren Simkins (Choctaw; Environmental Sciences), Catherine Walden (Provost’s Office), and Michelle Walton-Hawthorne (Equity Center). Anyone interested in collaborating with us should contact Allison Bigelow ([email protected]) or Catherine Walden ([email protected]).

This Working Group aims to formalize 3 projects currently underway at separate but related initiatives for University-Tribal relationships and program building in Indigenous Studies. Our main 3 areas are:

  • a study of best practices for research, teaching, and university administration (including admissions) in Native American and Indigenous Studies
  • listening sessions with leaders and citizens from Tribal Nations in Virginia to implement reforms identified through Tribal consultation on the George Rogers Clark statue and Inclusive Excellence Faculty Fellow Tribal consultation study
  • public events to promote mutual exchanges of knowledge about Indigenous history, political philosophy, and governance, especially those developed by the Tribal Nations of what is now Virginia.

In this way, our core activities build from the groundwork of the Native and Indigenous Relations Community, Tribal Consultation report authored by the 2021-22 Inclusive Excellence Faculty Fellow, and undergraduate and graduate curriculum in Native American and Indigenous Studies.

Democratic Futures (started in 2021-2022)

Led by Stephen Parks, Associate Professor (English)

The Democratic Futures Core Working Group (DFCWG) draws together UVA academics and international democratic advocates to research, support, and expand newly emerging paradigms of democracy. It asks the question of whether the intersection of these new practices, often based on local or indigenous frameworks, might create a new “transnational” rights framework that authorizes new forms of political organization within and across existing national borders. In doing so, the DFCWG also intends to develop new forms of public scholarship which will circulate this work in forms that support advocates undertaking the difficult work of expanding democratic rights in the face of authoritarian regimes.  

Recent activity includes:

"This Democracy Activist Found Shelter at UVA and is Sharing His Wisdom with Students" UVAToday 

“If we are going to study democracy, we need to see democracy as interlinked, connected to events playing out around the world,” Parks said. “We immediately knew that having Myo Yan Naung Thein would be a really unique opportunity. We had so much respect for the knowledge and insights he could share. And I think we wanted to be scholars who use our resources to support those actually working for democracy.”

Course: ENWR 2510 "Working and Writing For Change: An Academic Writing Course, An Alliance with Global Advocates for Democracy.

Parks' J-Term course was co-taught with Srjda Popovic, Visiting Researcher, DFCWG member, and co-Director of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies. Myo Yan Naung Thein, a Burmese Democratic Futures Working Group member and Myanmar democratic advocate, also worked with the students, asking them to create work for his BDFWG. 


Naung Thein was interviewed by the Democracy in Danger / Season 3 Episode 13 about having to be smuggled out of his country last spring or face certain torture and death. A leader in Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, Naung Thein worked in the National League for Democracy, the party of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Now in exile in the United States, Naung Thein shares his gripping tale, and explains why he thinks the Burmese military regime is losing.


Popovic joined the Democracy in Danger / Season 2 Episode 8 podcast to share the core features of successful mobilization and to consider where and how young people today are shaping the political landscape for the better.