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.

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.

Unpayable Debt: Capital, Violence, and the New Global Economy is a comparative research and public engagement project about the emergence and impact of massive debt on vulnerable polities and populations. Unpayable Debt focuses on Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt to U.S. creditors and raises critical questions about the role of insurmountable debt in contemporary capitalism; the relationship between debt, migration, and violence; and the emergence of new political and cultural identities in subordinated groups. The project's scholars examine the politics of information asymmetry—a lack of data and conceptual tools—and how this might undermine social mobilization in impoverished communities, peoples, and countries.