The Center

The Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University promotes innovative interdisciplinary scholarship on the role of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race in global dynamics of power and inequality. Working together with colleagues from universities and research centers around the world, CSSD Fellows and faculty challenge the disciplinary divides among the humanities, the arts, and the social sciences by asking not only how historical categories of social difference intersect on the level of identity, but also how these categories shape institutions, modes of knowing, acts of representation, and processes of globalization. The Center’s collaborative work recognizes the crucial role of history in the study of global structures of inequality and social difference and develops rigorous conceptual and empirical analyses of complex networks of culture and power. CSSD creates the conditions for scholars, artists and practitioners to imagine alternative social structures and to set new and daring intellectual agendas for the future.

Current Projects

Precision Medicine—an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person—raises a myriad of cultural, political, and historical questions that the humanities are uniquely positioned to address. As part of its overall Precision Medicine Initiative, Columbia is initiating a broad based exploration of questions that precision medicine raises in law, ethics, the social sciences, and the humanities.

Reframing Gendered Violence aims to open up a critical global conversation among scholars and practitioners that recasts the problem of violence against women as it is currently discussed in a wide range of fields, both academic and policy-oriented, including human rights, public health, journalism, law, feminist studies, literature, sociology, religious studies, anthropology, and history. The goal is to move the conversation on this crucial topic in new directions, pointing to elisions and exclusions in many common-sense understandings of these terms; deepening the ways in which we engage with the manifestations and causes of such violence; unpacking the politics through which accusations of GBV can sometimes be used to pathologize entire communities, societies or religious traditions, or to divert attention from more systemic and fundamental forms of abuse.

Pacific Climate Circuits applies lenses of race, class, gender, sexuality, and inequality to the current analyses of climate change in the Pacific Region. The working group examines the specific political-economic systems culpable for climate change in the region, linking them to its histories of colonialism and neoliberalism. Researchers seek solutions outside the typical hard sciences approach, instead drawing on scholarship in the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences to scrutinize the region, its environment, and its people.

Bandung Humanisms is an interdisciplinary research project examining the workings of Bandung Humanisms, the progressive political, social, and cultural movement among nations of the Global South that refused to ally with either major power bloc during the Cold War. The working group, a collaboration between scholars at Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles uncovers the post-colonial developing world’s espousal of a radical brand of humanism and self-determination that gave rise to the Non-Aligned Movement of non-aggressor states. Scholars from a diverse range of fields trace the institutions, associations, writings, and artworks identified with the Bandung Humanisms movement, connecting them to current global struggles for social justice.