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May 1, 2008

Study of Inequality and Social Difference
to be Focus of New Center at Columbia

Columbia University has launched the Center for the Critical Analysis of Social Difference, which will bring together scholars of race, gender, sexuality and ethnicity in order to investigate problems of social and cultural inequality and promote innovative interdisciplinary scholarship.

With a team of visiting fellows and multiyear academic initiatives already in place, the center will serve as a major research arm of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia, as well as the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

“We think it’s crucial to address the intersections among race, gender, sexuality and ethnicity because these structures do not exist in isolation,” said interim director Jean Howard, the George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities and former vice provost for diversity initiatives.

“It is impossible to analyze the global dynamics of gender and sexuality, for example, without accounting for the impact of colonialism, migration and market forces, or to analyze the global dynamics of race and ethnicity without reaching into the history of the struggles over population control, sexual rights and reproduction,” added Claudio Lomnitz, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and a faculty fellow at the new center.

The Center for the Critical Analysis of Social Difference (CCASD) has already begun forming research partnerships across the world, including with Sabanci University, in Istanbul, Turkey, and with the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, in Paris.

“There is nothing that defines the last half-century better than the changing dynamics of gender, race and ethnicity,” said Lee C. Bollinger, University president, during his opening remarks at the center’s launch event, held earlier this month. “I am proud to have Columbia be a place that embraces the study of these differences that are so central to forces at play in society and in ourselves.”

CCASD’s interdisciplinary approach will cut across the fields of humanities, law, social science and the arts. Several prominent artists will join the center as visiting fellows next year, including Clive van den Berg, an esteemed designer and curator from South Africa, and the award-winning photographer Susan Meiselas.

“In order to understand political, economic and legal transformation, it’s necessary to understand the emergence and movement of cultural and aesthetic forms,” said Laura Ciolkowski, the center’s assistant director and an adjunct assistant professor in Columbia’s English department.

CCASD currently has four multiyear research projects scheduled and will add another next year.

Its inaugural project examines the archive, cultural memory and transmission of heritage among various cultures. Other projects include an exploration of the intellectual history of black women; a comparative study of the relationship between national borders and social boundaries (with special focus on France, the Middle East, the United States, Mexico and Central America); and an international study of liberalism and the impacts of legal, economic, political and medical reform on women, the poor, and racial, ethnic and sexual minorities.

The center’s launch was announced during a two-day symposium that explored experiences of displacement and the rites and risks of return. The symposium featured several prominent scholars, artists and cultural critics, including New Orleans photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, writers Daniel Mendelsohn, Saidiya Hartman and Eva Hoffman, and Israeli journalist Amira Hass.