What Is Ethnic Studies?

Ethnic Studies is an interdisciplinary enterprise that starts from the assumption that race and racism have been, and continue to be, profoundly powerful social and cultural forces in American society and in modernity at large. Our scholarship and teaching focus both on the specific experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanas/os and Latinas/os, Native Americans, and other racialized peoples in the US, and on the lessons of comparative ethno-racial studies for generalizing about American society and history and about the contemporary global order (since race and racism are neither uniquely American 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 both the structural dimensions of race and racism (social, political, and economic inequality and struggles over that inequality, both within and among nation-states) and the associated cultural dimensions (literary, artistic, musical and other forms of humanistic expression, as well as the intense politics surrounding these cultural forms). We also aim to understand race and racism as “moving targets” that undergo mutations or otherwise evolve (including the birth of new racialized groups, such as the targets of Islamophobia), and to recognized the complexity of the intersections of race with gender, class, sexuality, and other systems of difference that have power-effects.

Mission Statement

The Department of Ethnic Studies (ES) encourages the comparative study of racialization in the Americas, with a focus on the histories, literatures, and politics of Asian Americans, Chicanos/Latinos, Native American Indians, and African Americans. ES seeks to situate these core groups within national and transnational contexts, and to understand how racial and ethnic formation articulate with other axes of stratification such as class, gender, and sexuality.

Our approach is interdisciplinary in nature. Studies interrogate the relationship of social structure to those of literary and cultural practices, and in so doing question traditional disciplinary boundaries and assumptions. Our scholarly concerns are explicitly linked to the development of a social practice. Inquiries into the nature of racial, ethnic, and gender inequality are informed by a commitment to social change and social justice.

The undergraduate programs in Asian American, Chicano/Latino, and Native American Studies (along with the Department of African American Studies) investigate the social, political, and cultural factors that shape the core groups' formation and transformation. Research on these specific core groups lays the foundations for the overall comparative project of ES.

As one of the oldest programs focusing on race and ethnicity, the Ethnic Studies Department is committed to understanding more deeply the multiple meanings of racial diversity in the Americas.


Ethnic Studies Department
506 Barrows Hall #2570
Berkeley, CA 94720-2570
510-642-6456 fax

Office Hours: Mon - Thurs 9-12, 1-4, Fri 9-12