The Harper Lecture series is offered to the University community across the country and around the world by the University of Chicago Alumni Association. Named for the University's first President, William Rainey Harper, the series carries on his vision of broadly accessible and innovative education.


The Beverly Hilton
9876 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, California

Event Details

Over the past 15 years, cities increasingly have become sites of political engagement around the issues of jobs and inequality. In particular, cities have served as the most active political arenas for the debate over low-wage work, primarily in response to the political claims made by grassroots actors calling for improved job standards and higher wages. Drawing upon a comparative case study of community-labor campaigns initiated by Walmart site disputes in Los Angeles, Parks will examine how grassroots community actors have addressed the problem of low-wage work in a somewhat unexpected way--through their efforts to ensure that urban economic development benefits local community residents and workers.

Virginia Parks is an associate professor in the School of Social Service Administration. A geographer, Parks specializes in the study of urban inequality. Her teaching and research interests include urban labor markets, racial and gender inequality, immigration, urban politics and policy, and community organizing. Her recent research includes an analysis of the sources of metropolitan racial wage inequality and the ways in which unions mediate the racial and ethnic division of labor.


$20 general admission; $10 recent graduate (College alumni of the past ten years and graduate alumni of the past five years).

Speaker Profiles

Virginia Parks (Speaker)
Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration, The University of Chicago

Virginia Parks is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration. Her fields of special interest include urban geography, urban labor markets, immigration, racial and gender inequality, residential segregation, and community organizing and development. She teaches courses at SSA in policy formulation and implementation and in community organizing and development.

In her research, Professor Parks analyzes the patterns and ramifications of spatial inequality, particularly as they manifest in urban environments at the intersections of race, ethnicity, and gender. Her primary interest is in how space and place bring about and mediate labor market outcomes, such as unemployment and low-wage work, for immigrants, native-born minorities, and women. A central concern informing Professor Parks's research and teaching is how local communities can respond to these patterns of inequality through various organizing and development efforts.

Professor Parks is a 2008-09 Russell Sage Visiting Scholar. Her project at the Russell Sage Foundation, with Dorian Warren (Columbia University), examines local political responses by communities of color to economic inequality and the plight of low-wage work through a comparative case study of two anti-Walmart campaigns: a campaign in Chicago, IL, that led to the passage and subsequent mayoral veto of the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance aimed at Walmart and the low-wage retail industry in 2006 and the zoning defeat of Walmart in Inglewood/Los Angeles, CA, in 2004. These cases reveal how, when, and with what success ordinary people--local residents and grassroots political actors--can exercise their political voice to influence urban economic development and the new economy of low-wage work.

Professor Parks received her Ph.D. in Geography and M.A. in Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. Before her life as an academic, Professor Parks worked as a community organizer.


Kelly Doody