Civil Society & Community Studies

Cynthia Jasper 2018

Dr. Cynthia Jasper, Department Chair

The Department of Civil Society and Community Studies collaborates with communities, civil society organizations, and social movements to co-create a just and sustainable future for all. We are a department that:

  • Strives for social justice, common good, and sustainability for current and future generations;
  • Elevates the power of those who are marginalized by various forms of oppression and dominant cultural norms;
  • Embraces the multitude of ways of knowing and being in the world;
  • Engages with the wider community in our work as researchers, teachers, and members of civil society;
  • Uses systems thinking, mixed methods, and community-engaged research approaches to gain a holistic and comprehensive understanding of community issues and how to address them;
  • Emphasizes positive youth development, asset-based evaluation and programming, and appreciative inquiry; and
  • Seeks to understand and honor the various ways people come together to effect policy and programmatic change in their communities.

Resources and areas of specialization

CSCS faculty include interdisciplinary scholars working across research and programmatic capacities, often in close partnership with community partners and grassroots organizations. Our areas of specialization include:

Food systems and sovereignty

  • Community food systems
  • Indigenous and global food sovereignty
  • Food security and assistance programs

Indigenous communities

  • Traditional ecological knowledge
  • Indigenous language and culture

Research methodologies

  • Indigenous research methodologies
  • Community-based research
  • Program, systems, and transformative evaluation

Environment and land

  • Gentrification and urban development
  • Climate and environmental justice
  • Housing and land access

Civic engagement and nonprofit studies

  • Civic health and civic engagement
  • Local and global nonprofit and community organizations and practices
  • Philanthropy and community-based fundraising
  • Strategic nonprofit communications
  • Youth civic engagement

Social, behavioral, and public health

  • Community-based public health of Native American populations
  • Indigenous-centered health evaluation methodologies
  • Rights-based approaches to health and wellbeing of vulnerable women and children globally
  • Global health education and service-learning programs
  • Global and community-based participatory research

Community organizing and activism

  • Labor and economic justice
  • Immigrant rights
  • Cooperatives and alternative economies
  • Criminal justice system and reform

Centers and labs

The School of Human Ecology is home to the Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies, known as “the CommNS.” Under the leadership of faculty director Dr. Brian McInnes and executive director Mary Beth Collins, the center develops resources and hosts events to connect and assist change agents in their work to better communities. The CommNS also builds and supports community–university partnerships through entities like Co-Create, which facilitates student work on applied research and evaluation projects to meet the mission-driven needs of nonprofit organizations and civic actors.

SoHE also seeded the 4W Initiative (Women and Well-being in Wisconsin and the World) and more recently launched the Indigenous Ecowell Initiative, which supports work at the intersections of Indigenous cultures, health, language, and community. In addition, SoHE is home to the POWER Collective, founded and led by CSCS students to produce, support, and disseminate critical scholarship and community action projects led by students, community members, and professionals of color at UW–Madison and throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Partners and affiliations

Various CSCS faculty hold affiliations or joint appointments with other UW units including:

Degrees offered

The department of Civil Society and Community Studies at UW–Madison provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate level education opportunities.


PhD, Civil Society and Community Research (PDF brochure)
MS, Human Ecology
Doctoral Minor, Community-Engaged Scholarship
Capstone Certificate, Community and Nonprofit Leadership
Graduate/Professional Certificate, Community-Engaged Scholarship


BS, Community and Nonprofit Leadership