Photo of Jovan Scott Lewis

Research Expertise and Interest

Jamaica and the USA; constructions and infrastructures of poverty, inequality, race (blackness), economy, reparations

Research Description

Jovan Scott Lewis is Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Scammer’s Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica (University of Minnesota Press, 2020) and Violent Utopia: Dispossession and Black Restoration in Tulsa (Duke University Press).

He studies Black people's lived experience of economic and racial inequality and reparative frameworks for those disparities. As such, his work has been centrally concerned with reparations not only as a means of remedying past harms but how they might engender future Black community development.

He is currently working on two book projects. The first examines the themes of injury, recognition, and redress to offer a framework for unpacking the meaning, potential, and limits of reparations in the  U.S. It aims to identify and then challenge the ethical terms that have stalled the demand for redress with the ability to effect new possibilities for reparations.

The second project examines the terms by which we understand antiblack harms by situating them as injuries against Black relations. The project advocates for community-based practices that develop what he calls 'relational repair' to create terms of Black living beyond injury.

From 2021 to 2023, he was appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom to the State's Reparations Task Force, the first government-initiated reparations commission in the country. He was responsible for framing the community of eligibility and overseeing the development of compensation recommendations. Coming out of the task force, he is leading a research group of economists and political scientists studying the racial wealth gap in California.

He started the Berkeley Black Geographies Project in 2016 in the Geography Department at the University of California, Berkeley. The project has advanced an intellectual and institutional commitment to the geographic study of the Black experience and how racialization has been central to the imagining and organizing of modern society. Across programming, pedagogy, and publishing, current graduate students, graduate alum, and faculty produced and recruited by the Project have made Geography at UC Berkeley an institutional leader in the disciplines of Black Geographies and Black ecologies. 

In the News

What Does California Owe Descendants of the Enslaved?

By July 1, California’s Reparations Task Force must finish its report on the harms African Americans have faced since California became a state in 1850 and recommend how the state should repair the damage for all descendants of enslaved people now residing here.
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