An exploration of the physical frontiers that define race in America

UC Berkeley professor Keith Feldman’s thoughts on race and space, the post-racial imaginary, and the accessibility of race theory

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Keith Feldman

Keith Feldman, Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley (Photo Credit: Keith Feldman)

Keith Feldman‘s fifth-floor Barrows Hall office is slotted away among countless professorial offices, distinguished only by the stoic “Keith P. Feldman” emblazoned on his door. But a look inside the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies professor’s office reveals a workspace that seemingly embodies the Japanese design principle of wabi-sabi. The personal space he has carved out amongst the Barrows milieu is orderly, simple, impermanent, and framed by a picture-perfect view of Berkeley’s famous Campanile. It is clear that this man knows how to pick his space.

It became clear over the course of our 30-minute talk that Feldman knows how to analyze space, too. His passion within the vast field of Ethnic Studies is linked to constructions of culture and space – that is, how world-scale culture influences our perception of current geopolitical arrangements.

“I am interested the notion of cultural production in the context of the relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the world,” said Feldman. “Some of the most important pieces of insight I come across in my research seek to answer the question: how does the cultural generation of space really work?”

This backdrop sparked a lively conversation that shuffled from topic to topic, covering nearly every one of Feldman’s major research works and articles. We discussed his current primary project, an analysis of the American post-Civil Rights integrationist project in the context of the post-1967 land dispute between Israel and Palestine. We addressed one of Feldman’s contemporary works, which examines the notions of “racialization from above” and “racialization on the ground” in the context of U.S. drone warfare along the Pakistani/Afghani border. We spoke about his fascination with the role of the modern-day U.S. in world-wide cultural formation, and how American attitudes or policies could affect foreign culture across a variety of regions.

If these topics seem unique, it’s because they are: Feldman clearly brings a fresh perspective to traditional theories of race and space, and lends them a level of worldly interconnectedness that lends additional depth to his analysis. I spent the majority of our talk simply trying to keep up with his out-of-the-box, globe-trotting theorization. I felt more at home when our conversation traced back to the U.S., and we began discussing the idea of the ‘post-racial’ imaginary in light of the Obama presidency.

“In 2008, there was a lot of discussion after Obama was elected regarding a so-called ‘post-racial’ America,” said Feldman. “But I think it is telling that, in the 2012 election, we had very little discussion on this topic at all. In fact, we had a lot of discussion on the idea of demographics and the differences between different groups of voters.”

This nugget of theory, though perhaps more accessible than Feldman’s other insights, was no less profound. In fact, it was even inspiring: one of my future posts will now focus on the rhetoric of the 2012 election, and how each campaign segmented and targeted different demographic groups across the country.

This was hardly the only time Feldman gave me suggestions on how I could expand my study of race and space. Areas of further exploration that he suggested include the work of Josh Begley, who is pushing the envelope in terms of using new media to address social issues, and a recent article by George Lipsitz analyzing the spatiality of home foreclosures during the 2008-2009 recession. If you see blog posts on these topics in the future, you know who to thank.

Ultimately, at the conclusion of our talk, I had just one question left for Feldman: how do I make this content accessible for my readers? I told him about the goal of this blog, and my attempt to reach as many readers as I could with what can be an intellectually daunting topic. How can I bring the theory behind race and space to those who have never studied it?

“You’re talking about a subject that is relevant to everyone and their perception of the world around them,” said Feldman. “It is a topic that has importance on both global and local scales…it’s all about finding a way to cover it in a compelling manner.”

For more information on Professor Keith P. Feldman or his work, please feel free to visit his webpage with the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. The page contains further information about his areas of studies, the classes he teaches, and a full list of his published works.


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