Ujju Aggarwal is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at The New School. Prior to joining The New School, she was Visiting Joanne Woodward Chair in Public Policy at Sarah Lawrence College. She has been a Visiting Scholar at the Vermont Center for Fine Arts and has also taught at Hunter College (CUNY) and Educational Opportunities Center (SUNY). Her research has been supported by the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (UT Austin), the National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation, the Center for Place, Culture and Politics (CUNY Graduate Center), and the Davis Putter Fund. Ujju's research examines questions related to public infrastructures, urban space, racial capitalism, rights, gender, and the state. She is currently completing her first book, The Color of Choice: Raced Rights, Education, and the Structure of Citizenship, is a historically informed ethnography of choice as it emerged in the post-Civil Rights period in the United States. Her next project traces uneven urban development temporally and spatially through a theory of what she terms carceral care. In addition to her academic training, for two decades, Ujju has worked to build local and national organizations that work for educational justice, immigrants' rights, and transformative justice as well as projects that focus on the intersection of arts and social justice, popular education, and adult literacy. She currently serves as the Co-Chair for the K-16 Committee of the American Studies Association, as an Advisory Board Member of the Parent Leadership Project (Bloomingdale Family Head Start Center, PLP), and as an Advisory Board Member of PARCEO (Participatory Action-Research Center for Education Organizing.
What can contestations over public schools tell us about cities, citizenship, and the commons? How do we understand and locate the histories of struggle that inform and narrate our present? This paper examines the predicament one racially and economically diverse, and yet intensely segregated school districts in the largest school system in the United States. The district is also one that provides the most choices to parents to determine which school might best serve their child---making it so that parents shop for schools, and schools shop for parents. In the aftermath of the 2007/8 financial crisis, when families in this district (and cities across the U.S.) were reinvesting in public schools, I examine how a broader investment in the commons that public schools represent came to be characterized by key elements of neoliberalism: the intensification of market logics to organize public goods, increased competition, and an intensified consumer citizenship. I examine how parents, endowed with “equal rights” made differential claims to the shared resource of public schools. I focus in on the unlikely transformation of one school from a place that was indicative of organized abandonment (Gilmore, 2008) to a school that came to be sought-after. By accompanying a group of Black and Latinx low-income mothers who experience the exclusion that qualifies the transformation, we learn about the contradictory evocations of the U.S. civil rights movement as well as the limits of universal rights and the curtailed political horizon of the commons within the liberal capitalist state.