Louise Seamster, Ph.D.
Louise Seamster is an Assistant Professor in Sociology and Criminology and African American Studies at the University of Iowa (with a courtesy appointment in the College of Law), and a Nonresident Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. Seamster studies how financial and symbolic narratives reproduce racial inequality. Her first book, Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: Water Secession, Debt, and the Domination of Flint (under contract with Columbia University Press), reveals the political water secessions behind the Flint Water Crisis, and explains how the financial industry’s definition of risk overwrote concern about harm to Flint residents. This book comes alongside an ongoing archival big-data project, making government emails related to Flint’s crisis searchable on a public website. Seamster has written extensively about debt as a key mechanism producing racial advantage and disadvantage; the chimera of racial progress; and about how white communities often develop at the expense of black places. Her work on predatory inclusion in student debt has led to extensive policy advocacy, including research informing Senator Elizabeth Warren’s student debt forgiveness plan. She has also conducted numerous interviews on race and debt, including on the New York Times’ Ezra Klein Show, WNYC’s The Takeaway, and other national outlets.
Her project, Tabula Rasa: How “Progress” Narratives Hurt Cities, is a case study of “future talk” in a small majority-black Michigan city, and how outsiders’ political and economic interventions in the name of progress wind up worsening inequality.