Research Seminar: Thirty Years On, What Was/Is Black Studies? A retrospective mapping in a moment of crisis

An appraisal of the disciplinary formation, maturation and current significance of Black Studies with Professor Ben Carrington.

I do not believe that there is any such thing as black studies. I only know, the struggle of people against tyranny and oppression in a certain social setting, and, particularly, the last two hundred years. It’s impossible for me to separate black studies and white studies in any theoretical point of view.

C.L.R. James

In this talk, I provide an appraisal of the disciplinary formation, maturation and current significance of Black Studies.

I trace what might now, in retrospect, be considered Black Studies’ apogee three decades ago.

The early to mid-1990s was a period of truly exceptional intellectual creativity, with several foundational texts published that continue to inform debates today.

I highlight the significance of this intellectual moment in order to rethink what insights Black Studies might usefully offer us in the present moment of political crisis.

Our conjuncture is shaped, in part, by renewed political assaults on the very idea of critical thinking about racial formation and attempts to delegitimize Black Studies from both within and outside the academy.

More broadly, we are also in the midst of the rise of ethno-nationalist and nativist politics, attacks on multiculturalism as a social good, alongside renewed if disparate (global) anti-racist social movements.

In this context, it is worth reflecting on the following questions: what was Black Studies supposed to do/be, and what role might it still have in relation to contemporary struggles against systems of power and domination?

About the speaker

Professor Ben Carrington is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Journalism in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and, for 2023-24, a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds.

He has written widely on topics related to race, politics, popular culture, media and social theory.

Prior to joining USC, Professor Carrington taught in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, and before that he worked at the University of Brighton in England.

In addition to his scholarly publications, Professor Carrington has written op-eds for publications such as The Guardian, The Washington Post and The Huffington Post and has written and presented a documentary on the public intellectual Stuart Hall for U.S. public radio titled Stuart Hall: In Conversations (NPR).