The Critical Ethnic Studies Association is a transnational, interdisciplinary, and un-disciplinary association of scholars, activists, students, artists, media makers, educators, and others who are directly concerned with interrogating the limitations of Ethnic Studies in order to better engage the historical stakes of the field.


CESA aims to develop an approach to scholarship, institution building, and activism animated by the spirit of the decolonial, antiracist, and other global liberationist movements that enabled the creation of Ethnic Studies and which continues to inform its political and intellectual projects.

We seek to move away from current critical deadlocks, to counteract institutional marginalization, to revisit the political ideas that precipitated Ethnic Studies’ founding moment within the US academy, and to create new conversations. In particular, we seek to forge a Critical Ethnic Studies that challenges US hegemony in traditional Ethnic Studies, acknowledges other genealogies of antiracist and decolonial thinking and struggle, and moves towards thinking and acting in ways that are transnational and at the service of multiple local struggles.


Ethnic studies scholarship has laid the foundation for analyzing how racism, settler colonialism, immigration, imperialism, and slavery interact in the creation and maintenance of systems of domination, dispossession, criminalization, expropriation, exploitation, and violence that are predicated upon hierarchies of racialized, gendered, sexualized, economized, and nationalized social existence in the United States and beyond. Our vision of Critical Ethnic Studies highlights how systematized oppression is coterminous with the multitude of practices that resist these systems.

Critical ethnic studies does not treat decolonization as a destination, but sees decolonizing as a set of ongoing theories, practices, imaginaries, and methods in the service of abolishing global oppression. Thus, rather than focusing exclusively on critique, critical ethnic studies stands for decolonizing as a generative praxis of world-making.


The first Critical Ethnic Studies conference took place in March 2011 at the University of California Riverside, Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide: Settler Colonialism/Heteropatriarchy/White Supremacy. Shortly thereafter, folks who organized and participated in the conference formed the Association. The second Critical Ethnic Studies conference took place in September 2013 at the University of Illinois Chicago, Decolonizing Future Intellectual Legacies and Activist Practices. The third conference, Sovereignties and Colonialisms: Resisting Racism, Extraction and Dispossession, is taking place at York University in Toronto April 30 - May 5, 2015.


The guiding intellectual question of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association is: how do the histories of colonialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery, and white supremacist patriarchies and heteronormativities affect, inspire, and unsettle scholarship and activism in the present? By decentering the nation-state as a unit of inquiry and reimagining the place of scholarship in activism, the objectives of CESA are to:

  • Establish an international and interdisciplinary network of scholars and activists.

  • Stimulate debate on critical ethnic studies, the professionalization within ethnic studies, and the concomitant refusal to interrogate the politics of the academic and non-profit industrial complexes or to engage with broader movements for social transformation.

  • Provide forums such as the biannual conference for thinking about global variants of racialization, racial and colonial domination, capital, heteropatriarchy, and settler colonialism.

  • Produce critical engagement around white supremacy, settler colonialism, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, militarism, occupation, neocolonialism, migration, anti-blackness.

  • Engage in productive dialogue through the organization of seminars, social media activities, webinars, lectures, and conferences.

  • Disseminate information on activist and scholarly activities concerning critical ethnic studies.

Publish a journal, Critical Ethnic Studies, for emerging ethnic studies scholarship, for the formulation of new analytical languages and paradigms, and to facilitate a more critical and constructive dialogue between activist and academic voices.


Some Ethnic Studies paradigms have become entrapped within, and sometimes indistinguishable from, the mandates of liberal multiculturalism, which rely on a politics of identitarian representation beholden to US nation-building and capitalist imperatives. On the one side, as Ethnic Studies has become more legitimized within the academy, it has frequently done so by distancing itself from those very international social movements that were the triggers for its genesis. On the other side, Ethnic Studies departments have always existed at the periphery of the academic industrial complex, and they have been further marginalized through funding cuts in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis. In our current moment, regional governments and states have labeled Ethnic Studies departments as threats and sought to remove teachers, students, and programs engaged in critical analyses of global structures. While some may advocate the peremptory dismissal of identity or the wholesale embrace of identitarian nationalism, CESA seeks to construct an open dialogue around white supremacy, settler colonialism, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy, as well as militarism, occupation, Indigenous erasure, neocolonialism, anti-blackness, securitization and the policing of borders, the normalization of punishment and prisons, anti-Islam, etc. We consider it necessary to consistently strive to expand the conceptual parameters and transformative capacities of Ethnic Studies. CESA does not romanticize social movements or prescribe a specific relationship between scholars and activists. Still, we call into question the emphasis on professionalization within Ethnic Studies and the concomitant refusal to interrogate the politics of the academic industrial complex or to engage with broader movements for social transformation.

CESA, while building bridges beyond the academy, locates itself within the neoliberal university as a site of contestation. We do this to counteract the tendency of seeing the academic industrial complex as radically removed from the world and to situate the university as one location among many for political struggles. CESA came into existence in 2011 as part of the effort to accelerate confluence of conversations and actions between and within academic and activist communities, to take stock of the trajectory of social movements and community organizing in social and political thought, and draw from communities of color, transnational, and indigenous writers, teachers, and students who are simultaneously practicing within community and activist work even while in academic spaces.


Critical Insurrections: Decolonizing Difficulties, Activist Imaginaries, and Collective Possibilities
June 21-24, 2018
Hosted by the Critical Racial & Anti-Colonial Studies (CRACS) Research Network & the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality & Social Justice
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
Unceded Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish Territory
For full schedule and program, CLICK HERE

Sovereignties and Colonialisms: Resisting Racism, Extraction and Dispossession
April 30 - May 3, 2015
Hosted by: York University, Toronto
For full schedule and program, CLICK HERE

Decolonizing Future Intellectual Legacies and Activist Practices
September 19-21, 2013
Hosted by: The Institute For Research on Race and Public Policy
The University of Illinois At Chicago
For full schedule and program, CLICK HERE

Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide: Settler Colonialism/Heteropatriarchy/White Supremacy
March 10-12, 2011
Hosted by: Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California at Riverside
For full schedule and program, CLICK HERE


Currently CESA is not an active association. The CESA Journal maintains an active editorial board and publishing schedule. Click here to visit the Journal website. If you want to contact us, please scroll below to contact us.


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