Department of Ethnic Studies - College of Letters and Science - University of California, Berkeley


Ethnic Studies at Berkeley

What Is Ethnic Studies?

Ethnic Studies is a transdisciplinary enterprise that starts from the assumption that race and racism have been, and continue to be, profoundly powerful social, cultural, and political forces within and beyond U.S. society. Our scholarship and teaching focus on the experiences of specific racialized groups in the U.S. as well as on the lessons of comparative ethno-racial studies for understanding U.S. society, history, and the contemporary global order, since race and racism are neither unique to the U.S. nor ever merely a “domestic matter” in any modern nation-state.

In addition to grounding our scholarly work in the concrete situations of people of color, we also use a methodological framing that emphasizes dimensions of race and racism that are structural (social, political, and economic inequality and struggles over material inequality) as well as cultural (the role of literary, artistic, musical and other forms of humanistic expression in creating and maintaining social structures). We aim to understand race and racism as “moving targets” that undergo mutations or evolve, and to recognize the complexity of the intersections of race with gender, class, sexuality, religion, and other systems of difference.

Mission Statement

The Department of Ethnic Studies is committed to the comparative study of racialization within the U.S., throughout the Americas, and globally.  Traditionall, our research and teaching has focused on the histories, cultures, and politics of Asian Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans, and African Americans. In order to keep up with the continuously changing nature of racism and remain at the forefront of our fields, our Department has constantly expanded its analytical lens through the transformation of our core programs (from Asian American to Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, and from Chicano Studies to Chicano/Latino Studies), the creation of relational areas of study (Comparative Ethnic Studies), and the hiring of faculty with expertise in newly and re-racialized groups (such as Arab- and Muslim-Americans). We seek to situate the study of racialized groups within national and transnational contexts, and to understand how racial and ethnic formations intersect with other axes of power and oppression such as class, gender, sexuality, and legal status. Our approaches to these issues interrogate the interrelationships of social structures and cultural practices, and in so doing question and challenge traditional disciplinary boundaries and assumptions. Our scholarly concerns are explicitly linked to the development of critical knowleges and are informed by a commitment to social change and justice.