The Scholarly and Intellectual Project of Ethnic Studies
Ethnic Studies is a dynamic political and intellectual project shaped by the imperatives of rigorous scholarly analysis, socially engaged critique, and historical movements of social transformation and liberation. In this sense, Ethnic Studies is neither a “discipline” nor a statically defined academic “field.” Rather, it is an interdisciplinary and imaginative scholarly practice that conceptualizes knowledge productions in an inherently social and political process. Its emergence from the multiple anti-racist struggles of the late twentieth century has equipped Ethnic Studies with a particular capacity to continually extend its communities of social engagement as well as its boundaries and trajectories of critical knowledge production. At its best, the Ethnic Studies project thrives on and learns from the tensions, conflicts, and debates that define its cutting edges, including those spurred by the social and intellectual movements of feminist, diasporic, transnational, queer, indigenous, imprisoned, immigrant, and community-based scholars. In this sense, Ethnic Studies can offer a uniquely productive, supportive context for the development of transdisciplinary, experimental, and radical social and political thought.
In short, the defining characteristic of the Ethnic Studies project is its singularly deep conceptual and theoretical attention to the systemic power relations that emerge from the global cultural and institutional productions of “race,” such as colonialism and slavery, conquest and displacement, genocide and warfare, and criminalization and imprisonment. Yet this focus is both a durable and flexible one. That is, rather than viewing race as a biological or genetic essence, a flimsy or fleeting social construction, or a direct signification of culture, Ethnic Studies understands race as a cultural and institutional framework through which historical relations of power and domination—and struggles for freedom and liberation—are articulated and defined.