December 6, 2002

New California Cultures Program Examines Golden State’s Changing Economic and Demographic Profile

By virtually any standard, California is one of the most economically and demographically dynamic places in the world. The dramatic and continuing changes in the economy and demographics have also led to a unique set of challenges, including socioeconomic polarization, the erosion of California’s public education system, and work force shortages. In response to these changes and the challenges they present, the University of California, San Diego has established an innovative new academic initiative: California Cultures in Comparative Perspective (CCCP), and has appointed an award-winning scholar, sociologist David Pellow, to lead the new project.

“The purpose of CCCP will be to explore the range of implications emerging from these new demographic realities in California and to place them in a comparative perspective in terms of race and ethnicity, culture, nation, space, and time,” said Pellow. “This means that we will be supporting research, teaching, and service among faculty and students that examines new and emerging California communities and/or older or settled communities in new ways. CCCP is an international initiative as well because so many of the communities in this state are transnational in nature, particularly communities comprised of recent migrants. By 2005, it is estimated that one out of three California residents will be foreign-born.”

According to Pellow, CCCP will build on UCSD’s strength as a major research institution in the U.S.-Mexico border region by developing initiatives that focus on important cultural, economic, social, and political questions that arise in this context.

While UCSD will recruit new faculty for CCCP, the project will also draw on the substantial academic resources currently available in various related UCSD programs, including the Department of Ethnic Studies, the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, the Institute for International, Comparative, and Area Studies, and the African and African-American Studies Research Project.

“These new demographic and economic conditions have generated new types of social memberships, agencies, processes, and cultural expressions in California. As technologies and mass migrations continue to reconfigure the globe, often at overwhelming speed, scholars must adapt to these new realities. We feel that UCSD is ideally positioned to take the lead on this,” said Pellow, who is an authority in the areas of environmental justice and the study of social movements. “CCCP will serve as a key mechanism for shedding light on important research needs in an era of rapid and profound social and economic change.”

Besides doing some of the scholarly activities that academic programs typically engage in, such as organizing seminars and symposia, producing working papers, and seeking funding for research and teaching, CCCP will develop a series of community-university collaborative initiatives. The purpose of these initiatives will be to conduct groundbreaking research between lay and academic experts on issues confronting California’s older and emerging communities. Pellow also plans to build on UCSD’s Academic Internship Program by including a California Cultures component that links students with paid and volunteer opportunities in community-based, non-profit organizations in immigrant communities.

Pellow, who left the University of Colorado at Boulder earlier this year to lead the CCIP initiative, has, in his own research, worked closely with community organizations and private citizens to document environmental health problems among workers of color and immigrants in Chicago and the Silicon Valley. His recent award-winning book, Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago (MIT Press, 2002), has been heralded as an important contribution to both the areas of environmental justice and the social evaluation of modern waste disposal methods. The book is a study of conflicts over solid waste and pollution in Chicago, particularly in communities of color and in neighborhoods and workplaces where immigrants and low-income populations live and labor.

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