Geoff Ward

Geoff Ward

Associate Professor and Associate Chair of African and African-American Studies
research interests:
  • Legacies of Racial Violence
  • Representative Social Control
  • Youth Justice

contact info:

office hours:

  • Weds. 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
  • and by appointment

mailing address:

  • Washington University
  • CB 1109
  • One Brookings Dr.
  • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
image of book cover

Geoff Ward’s scholarship examines racial politics of social control, and the pursuit of racial justice, historically and today.

Ward's studies address evolving dynamics of racial violence, conflict, and inequality; the racial politics of youth justice; and social movement, labor, and policy efforts to advance racial justice. 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. 

Ward is the author of the The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2012), an award-winning book on the rise, fall, and remnants of Jim Crow Juvenile Justice. His current project examines historical racial violence, its legacies, and reckonings today.

recent courses

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.

    Black Youth Justice

    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.

      Intellectual History of Mass Incarceration

      This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the intellectual history of the modern-day prison. What historical shifts, political logics, and ideological developments led to the phenomenon we have come to know as "mass incarceration"? How did the carceral logic that informs the seemingly inevitable contemporary connection between crime and punishment evolve in the West? Our topics will include influential theories that defined the physical space of the prison, the criminalization of marginalized populations, the emergence of theories and categories of deviance, and the development of criminology as an academic discipline.

        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