JD-PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science
Lucien Ferguson is a JD/PhD candidate in a combined program with Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and the Department of Political Science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. His research examines the legal, political, and intellectual traditions of rights in nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. history. Lucien is a 2021–22 Franke Graduate Fellow and a teaching assistant with the Center for Legal Studies.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
I study the histories of abolition and civil rights in the U.S. with special attention to how activists in those movements theorized what they were doing. In my dissertation, I look at how many of these activists saw themselves as combatting global systems of “caste,” a form of subjection they traced to the processes of European colonialism. If they were alive today, some of these activists might have used the language of “racism” instead of caste. But they also understood caste broadly as encompassing multiple forms of intersecting domination based on class and gender.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
Before coming to Northwestern, I was a special education teacher in Chicago Public Schools. My interests as a scholar intersect with the ones that brought me to special education—a passion for teaching and issues of civil rights and equity—but the experience of becoming a full-time student again was a shock! I encountered another surprising “twist” when I began the law school portion of the JD-PhD program, which profoundly affected me in my development as a scholar. Adjusting to life as a law student was challenging. However, my wonderful experiences in working with Professor Sheila Bedi in the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic and taking Immigration Law with Professor Erin Delaney were critical moments in my development as a lawyer.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
My research comes out of a longstanding fascination with legal and political theory and the histories of abolition and civil rights activism. My dissertation was greatly inspired by my work in the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic at Northwestern Law, which enabled me to work closely with brilliant, young Chicago activists in a group called GoodKids MadCity. That work prompted me to focus on the importance of voice and narrative in questions of racial justice. It also drew my attention to the manifold ways activists use and evade the legal system to create social change.
Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
I deeply admire Erin Delaney, Mary Dietz, Paul Gowder, and Alvin Tillery, with whom I have the honor of doing my dissertation work. Outside of Northwestern, I take inspiration from the work of far too many to name. The work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis, Adom Getachew, Alexander Gourevitch, Bernard Harcourt, and Patchen Markell have all been important to my development as a thinker and writer.
The Department of Political Science here is unique for its strengths in political theory and race. Overall, The Graduate School provides an ideal environment for students interested in interdisciplinary studies and is distinct in the U.S. in its support for work in critical theory. Finally, Northwestern is the only university in the country to offer a fully funded JD-PhD program. In my time here, I have been lucky enough to benefit from all of these amazing programs.
What books are on your bedside table?
At the moment, it’s Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac and Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Reuben Jonathan Miller.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I pet the cat, cook, run, and, on occasion, meditate.
Published: October 5, 2021
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