Discussion Series

The Ash Center regularly hosts a number of public discussion series aimed at presenting scholarly research and public analysis and commentary on pressing issues related to democratic governance. Most events are open to the broader community and provide a unique opportunity to engage with visiting scholars and practitioners. 

The Ash Center’s Comparative Democracy Seminar Series brings innovative scholars in the field of comparative democracy to the Kennedy School to present their research.  Seminars have focused on topics as diverse as compulsory voting, the influence of Christian churches on public policy, the crisis of representation in Latin America, and the oil curse in the Middle East.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the democracy and civic engagement landscape. Through the Ash Center's Democracy and Justice Today series, led by Archon Fung, Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government, experts, practitioners and academics, will explore the novel challenges that the pandemic poses for justice, democracy, and the 2020 election.

Recent uprisings in cities throughout the US against racialized police violence, along with mass protest movements from Chile to Colombia to Haiti against long-running structural inequality and exclusion, have demonstrated that policymakers and political leaders routinely remain disconnected from, or actively ignore and silence, the experiences of communities directly harmed by their policies. The What Justice Looks Like series, Convened by Assistant Professor Yanilda González, takes a perspective of “public policy from below” by centering the voices of those on the ground level of struggles for justice, but traditionally excluded from the halls of power. 

Race and American Politics is a multidisciplinary series of seminars and roundtable conversations led by Leah Wright Rigueur, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and cosponsored by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy. The series will feature academic, practitioner, and journalistic perspectives from across the nation on the most pressing political and social issues related to race in the United States: state-sanctioned violence, protest and social movements, voting rights, political representation, and more.

The Ash Center’s Initiative on Democracy in Hard Places hosts a speaker series that brings to campus distinguished scholars and practitioners to analyze the conditions, institutions, and behaviors that enable democracy to survey in hard places. 

Upcoming events

2021 Mar 04

Citizen Ballot Initiatives: A New Tool for Election Reform

4:00pm to 5:00pm


Zoom virtual webinar

The last several years have seen the growing and successful use of citizen-initiated ballot initiatives to win major election reforms. Some of the most successful, well-funded, and engaging campaigns have had unlikely initiators: small groups of everyday Americans fed up with waiting for someone else to take on an issue and deciding to do it themselves. Organizers of successful citizen-driven campaigns from different parts of the country, which beat the odds and succeeded, will discuss their issues, their motivations, and how they won.


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2021 Mar 10

Machine [Gun] Politics: Why Politicians Cooperate with Criminal Groups

12:00pm to 1:00pm


Virtual event, registration required

Why do politicians cooperate peacefully with organized criminal groups? Interactions between organized criminal groups and politicians are often either depicted as coercive or where the politician is a member of the criminal group. Using mixed-methods research on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a project by Jessie Bullock, PhD Candidate in Government, Harvard University, shows that there is a third explanation for cooperation: politicians willingly engage with organized criminal groups at arms-length when it is in their electoral interest to seek out these arrangements and when they have a low...

Read more about Machine [Gun] Politics: Why Politicians Cooperate with Criminal Groups
2021 Mar 24

Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st  Century

4:00pm to 5:00pm


Virtual event, registration required

The Ash Center and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) invites you to a discussion of Our Common Purpose, a report issues by the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. The Commission, which was launched by AAAS, spent two years engaging with communities all over the U.S. to explore how best to respond to the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our political and civic life.  

... Read more about Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st  Century
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