Sarah Song, Ph.D.

University of California, Berkeley

City: Berkeley, California

Country: United States

About Me:

I'm a professor of law and political science at UC Berkeley. I teach undergraduate and graduate level courses in political theory, feminist theory, immigration law and politics, and the First Amendment.

Research Interests

Immigration & Citizenship

Gender and Politics

Race, Ethnicity and Politics


Religion & Politics

Political Theory

Countries of Interest

United States


My Research:

I am a political theorist with special interest in issues of democracy, citizenship, immigration, inequality, and multiculturalism. My first book, Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism (Cambridge University Press, 2007), analyzes theories of group rights for religious and cultural minorities and their intersection with women's rights through a range of case studies in American law and politics. The book was awarded the 2008 Ralph Bunche Award by the American Political Science Association. My second book, Immigration and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2018), develops a realistically utopian normative framework for thinking about immigration in contemporary democratic societies.


Journal Articles:

(2012) The Boundary Problem in Democratic Theory: Why the Demos Should Be Bounded by the State, International Theory

Democracy is rule by the demos, but by what criteria is the demos constituted? Theorists of democracy have tended to assume that the demos is properly defined by national boundaries or by the territorial boundaries of the modern state. In a recent turn, many democratic theorists have advanced the principles of affected interests and coercion as the basis for defining the boundaries of democracy. According to these principles, it is not co-nationals or fellow citizens but all affected or all subjected to coercion who constitute the demos. In this paper, I argue that these recent approaches to the boundary problem are insufficiently attentive to the conditions of democracy. Democracy is not merely a set of procedures; it also consists of substantive values and principles. Political equality is a constitutive condition of democracy, and solidarity is an instrumental condition of democracy. The affected interests and coercion principles create serious problems for the realization of these conditions – problems of size and stability. Building on this critique, this paper presents democratic considerations for why the demos should be bounded by the territorial boundaries of the state, grounded in the state’s role in (1) securing the constitutive conditions of democracy, (2) serving as the primary site of solidarity conducive to democratic participation, and (3) establishing clear links between representatives and their constituents. I examine and reject a third alternative, a global demos bounded by a world state, and conclude by considering some practical implications of my argument.

(2009) Democracy and Noncitizen Voting Rights, Citizenship Studies

The boundaries of democracy are typically defined by the boundaries of formal status citizenship. Such state-centered theories of democracy leave many migrants without a voice in political decision-making in the areas where they live and work, giving rise to a problem of democratic legitimacy. Drawing on two democratic principles of inclusion, the all affected interests and coercion principles, this article elaborates this problem and examines two responses offered by scholars of citizenship for what receiving states might do. The first approach involves expanding the circle of citizenship to include resident noncitizens. A second approach involves disaggregating the rights conventionally associated with citizenship from the legal status of citizenship and extending some of those rights, including voting rights, to resident noncitizens. This article argues that both approaches fall short of satisfying the democratic principles of inclusion, which call for enfranchising individuals not only beyond the boundaries of citizenship but also beyond territorial boundaries.

(2005) Majority Norms, Multiculturalism, and Gender Equality, American Political Science Review

Although many scholars have discussed the conflict that can arise between multiculturalism and gender equality, both critics and defenders of multiculturalism have largely overlooked a variety of interactive dynamics between majority and minority cultures that have important implications for the theory and practice of multiculturalism. Examining cases in the U.S. context, this essay argues for an interactive view of the dilemmas of gender and culture that is attentive to interconnections between majority and minority cultures. What is of particular concern for debates on multiculturalism is that the mainstream legal and normative frameworks within which minority claims for accommodation are evaluated have themselves been informed by patriarchal norms, which in turn have offered support for gender hierarchies within minority cultures. The interactive view defended here suggests the need to scrutinize both minority and majority norms and practices in evaluating the claims of minority cultures.

Books Written:

(2007) Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism, Cambridge University Press

Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism explores the tensions that arise when culturally diverse democratic states pursue both justice for religious and cultural minorities and justice for women. Sarah Song provides a distinctive argument about the circumstances under which egalitarian justice requires special accommodations for cultural minorities while emphasizing the value of gender equality as an important limit on cultural accommodation. Drawing on detailed case studies of gendered cultural conflicts, including conflicts over the “cultural defense” in criminal law, aboriginal membership rules, and polygamy, Song offers a fresh perspective on multicultural politics by examining the role of intercultural interactions in shaping such conflicts. In particular, she demonstrates the different ways that majority institutions have reinforced gender inequality in minority communities and, in light of this, argues in favor of resolving gendered cultural dilemmas through intercultural democratic dialogue.