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Dr. Monica C. Bell is Professor of Law & Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale University. She uses sociological theory and methods to explore a wide variety of legal questions, mostly those focused on race and class inequality. Some subject matters that Bell has focused on include policing, structural and interpersonal violence, safety and security, welfare and public benefits, and housing and residential segregation. Bell uses multiple methods, with an emphasis on qualitative methodology.

Bell's scholarship has appeared in the Yale Law JournalAmerican Journal of SociologyJournal of Economic Perspectives, NYU Law Review, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Law & Society Review, and other journals. She has also published writing in popular outlets such as Politico Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Inquest, the Washington Post, and The Appeal.

Bell has received recognition for her scholarship, teaching, and mentorship, such as the 2019 Yale Law Women Faculty Excellence Award, the 2021 Jane Addams Article Award from the American Sociological Association, a 2021-22 Visiting Scholar Fellowship at the Russell Sage Foundation, and the 2022 Derrick A. Bell, Jr. Award from the American Association of Law Schools. In earlier years, she was honored as a Harry S. Truman Scholar and a George Mitchell Scholar, life-changing opportunities of which she remains actively supportive.

Bell is a first-generation college graduate from South Carolina. She holds a B.A. from Furman University, an M.Sc. from University College Dublin, a J.D. from Yale, and a Ph.D. in Sociology & Social Policy from Harvard. Between law school and graduate school, Bell clerked for the Hon. Cameron McGowan Currie of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina and served as an Arthur Liman Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, where her work focused largely on TANF and child support policy. Before joining the faculty at Yale, Bell was a Climenko Fellow & Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. Bell was the first Black woman to serve as a junior member of the Yale Law School faculty and is the second Black woman to receive tenure there. She is committed to opening and widening paths previously closed to others in return.





Legal estrangement is a concept that reflects the intuition among many people in poor communities of color that the law and its creators and enforcers operate to exclude them from society. In contrast to scholarship that places law abiding and cooperation as its core goal, research on legal estrangement interrogates how law and its institutions create and reinforce a sense of group social non-citizenship--and how legal institutions can change course to increase social solidarity. Most of this research has focused on policing in the United States.

Representative Publications



In the United States, race has been a core vector along which the political system, the economy, social life, civic life, and other locations of power have been organized since (and before) the Founding. This line of research examines how that vector has evolved and operates today, with special attention to the complex, mutually constitutive relationship between racial and spatial injustice.

Representative Publications


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This course is about how the U.S. Constitution bestows and harnesses the power of the United States government. We examine the sources, organization, breadth, and limitations on that power. We probe the powers of each of the three branches, as well as relationships between the federal government and states, territories, and Native American tribes. We also cover various enumerated and unenumerated rights as a check on the government's power. We operate with an eye toward how constitutional law develops both inside and outside the courts, and we particularly take stock of how slavery and colonialism have inflected constitutional construction and interpretation since the Founding.


This course is an introduction to the intersection between sociology and legal analysis. We cover fundamental concepts in sociology that can shed light on how best to design law and policy, such as class, status, power, bureaucracy, social control, social reproduction, culture, inequality, solidarity, race, stigma, and legitimation. Students also receive a primer on sociological research methods and analysis, with emphasis on qualitative methods. We then apply these concepts and methodological understandings to a variety of contemporary social and legal issues, ranging from immigration enforcement, to affirmative action, to the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, to family law and inequality.

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Despite increased attention to economic inequality​ in the past several years, poverty remains a serious yet oft-unrecognized problem in the United States. Lawmakers and bureaucrats have struggled to respond to the realities of poverty and have often failed to democratically engage poor people in policymaking that affects their families and communities. This line of research aims to capture those realities and to offer new proposals for housing, family, and welfare law as responses to poverty.

Representative Publications

Research on relationships between legal authorities and communities often focuses on whether and how much people trust a specific institution. But it fails to consider the ecosystem​ surrounding trust and distrust. For example, if an institution is broadly oppressive, it is odd to assume that trust in that institution is a positive outcome. In addition, one cannot understand how distrust of the police affects daily life without juxtaposing it against distrust in the welfare state, schools, neighbors, family members, friends, and intimate partners, or without accounting for the lived realities of poverty and inequality. This line of research examines dynamics between legal authorities and marginalized communities in these overlapping contexts.


Representative Publications


Yale Law School
127 Wall Street

New Haven, CT 06511

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