Geoff Ward

Geoff K. Ward

Professor of African and African-American Studies
Faculty Affiliate in Sociology and American Culture Studies
PHD, Sociology, University of Michigan
research interests:
  • Legacies of Racial Violence
  • Representative Social Control
  • Youth Justice
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    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • CB 1109
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Geoff Ward’s scholarship examines racial politics of social control, and the pursuit of racial justice, historically and today.

    Geoff Ward is Professor of African and African-American Studies and faculty affiliate in the Department of Sociology and American Culture Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis. His scholarship examines the racial politics of social control and the pursuit of racial justice, historically and today. His work appears in numerous academic journals and anthologies, and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Justice, the Ford Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. In addition to numerous research articles and essays, he is the author of The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2012), an award-winning book on the rise, fall, and haunting remnants of Jim Crow juvenile justice.

    His current projects examine broader histories of racist violence, their legacies, and implications for repair. To these ends, Ward is also a founding member of the Reparative Justice Coalition of St. Louis, a community-based organization working to commemorate histories of racist violence, and to address their legacies in our region.

    Recent publications:

    • Geoff Ward, Nick Petersen, Aaron Kupchik, and James Pratt (2019). "Historic Lynching and Corporal Punishment in Contemporary Southern Schools." Social Problems LINK
    • David Cunningham, Geoff Ward and Peter Owens (2019). "Configuring Political Repression: Anti-Civil Rights Enforcement in Mississippi." Mobilization: An International Quarterly LINK
    • Pérez, R. and Ward, G. (2019). "From Insult to Estrangement and Injury: The Violence of Racist Police Jokes." American Behavioral Scientist, 0002764219842617. LINK
    • Ward, G. (2018). "Living Histories of White Supremacist Policing," Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 15(1). LINK
    • Ward, G. and P. Hanink (2017). "Deliberating Racial Justice: Towards Racially Democratic Crime Control." In J. Jackson and J. Jacobs (eds.), Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics. New York: Routledge. LINK
    • Ward, G. (2016). "Microclimates of Racial Meaning: Historical Racial Violence and Environmental Impacts." Wisconsin Law Review, 575. LINK

    For more about research in these and other areas visit my personal website or my page on

    Creative projects:

    In addition to more traditional scholarly research and writing, I use creative and digital projects to support research and teaching, engage broader audiences, and facilitate the visibility, use and impact of this work. These include:

    • Monumental Anti-Racisma collaborative StoryMap exploring the racial politics of public memory, and highlighting global practices and student proposals centering anti-racist commemorative intervention;
    • The Racial Violence Archive, a digital resource for research, teaching, and engagement focusing on histories of racial violence and their legacies today; 
    • Truths and Reckonings: The Art of Transformative Racial Justice, a teaching gallery exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and John M. Olin Library at Washington University during Spring 2020;
    • Black Memory Worka StoryMap and podcast showcasing the work of several students in the Spring 2020 Senior Seminar and Capstone in the Department of African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

    recent courses

    Monumental Antiracism

    This course examines the contentious racial politics of commemorative objects and practices, and theoretical and practical aspects of commemorative work as a strategy of anti-racism, through close readings of relevant texts, case studies, and a practicum component involving collaborative development of a memorial archive and student-led memorial design projects.

    Juvenile Justice in the Black Experience

    This course examines the socio-legal past, present, and future of American juvenile justice, with a focus on the black experience. The course is organized in three parts. Part I surveys the late 19th and early 20th century development of the "parental state," its institutional centerpiece (the juvenile court), and principle legal subjects ("dependents" and "delinquents"), as these took shape alongside the contemporaneous rise of 20th century American Apartheid (i.e., Jim Crow). Part II examines key changes and challenges in contemporary juvenile justice, centering transformations of this institution in the wake of the black freedom movement, and remnants of Jim Crow juvenile justice in the post-Civil Rights Movement period. Finally, Part III considers possible futures of youth justice, and practical strategies for achieving equal protection within and beyond law.

      Histories of Racial Violence, Legacies, and Reckonings

      This course examines legacies of historical racial violence and contemporary reckoning efforts, with emphasis on the African American experience. The course combines seminar readings, discussion and academic writing on legacies of racial violence with a practicum component, where individual students and groups of students and faculty conceptualize and develop projects intended to clarify and disrupt legacies of racial violence, facilitating contemporary reckoning. The seminar and practicum explores and encourages a broad range of remedial efforts, including public policy measures, original research, archival development, commemorative efforts, and a related array of mediums, including visual art, design, film, digital projects, and other creative interventions.

        The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice

        The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice

        The Black Child Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2012) provides the first in-depth historical account of the racial politics of American juvenile justice, examining the rise, fall, and lasting remnants of Jim Crow juvenile justice (ca. 1890-2000). The study traces ordeals of racial oppression and domination in juvenile justice – an imagined “citizen-building” institution – to embattled 20th century racial politics of American liberal democracy, while emphasizing the resistance of generations of black civic leaders.  The result is a more complex and dynamic view of how varied racial projects formed and functioned to not only diminish but also affirm the democratic standing of black youth and communities in this context of racialized social control. Theoretically, the project challenges conventional views of racialized social control which frame nonwhites as passive, subjugated populations, revealing the contentious nature of these relations, and the ability for less powerful groups to impose their interests within processes of social control. In terms of public policy, the book illustrates how redistributive remedies rooted in colorblind racial ideology have undermined gains in racial and ethnic group recognition, limiting the relevance of formal integration to substantive inclusion. 

        Winner of the Michael J. Hindelang Book Award of the American Society of Criminology, 2013

        Winner of the Outstanding Book Prize of the History of Education Society, 2013