Skip to main content

Avtar Brah

(Elected 2009)

Avtar Brah recently retired as Professor of Sociology at Birkbeck as a specialist in race, gender and ethnic identity issues. She was awarded an MBE in 2001 in recognition of her research.

Her books include Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities; Hybridity and Its Discontents: Politics, Science, Culture (edited with Annie Coombes); Thinking Identities: Racism, Ethnicity and Culture and Global Futures: Migration, Environment and Globalization (both edited with Mary Hickman and Mairtin Mac an Ghail).

By addressing questions of culture, identity and politics, Cartographies of Diaspora throws new light on discussions about ‘difference’ and ‘diversity’, informed by feminism and post-structuralism. It examines these themes by exploring the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, generation and nationalism in different discourses, practices and political contexts.

The work maps the emergence of ‘Asian’ as a racialised category in post-war British popular and political discourse and documents Asian cultural and political responses, paying particular attention to the role of gender and generation.

Hybridity and Its Discontents explores the history and experience of 'hybridity’ – the mixing of peoples and cultures – in North and South America, Latin America, Britain and Ireland, South Africa, Asia and the Pacific. It traces manifestations of hybridity in debates about racial purity, in scientific notions of genetics and 'race', and in ideas of nation, community and belonging.

'I have lived on four of the five continents of the globe – Africa, Asia, America and Europe. These experiences of displacement and dispersal have rendered questions of difference, solidarity and identity central to my work,' she says.

'During the 1970s, I came to Britain from the US, where I had been an undergraduate studying agriculture. It was in Britain that I switched to social sciences. This was the heyday of political movements such as socialism, feminism and anti-racism. I was influenced by these movements, and the insights gained from this political activity fed into my academic work.'

Professor Brah spent 1980–82 as a research associate at Leicester University and then three years as a lecturer with the Open University, before joining Birkbeck in 1985 as lecturer, becoming senior lecturer, Reader then Professor. She spent a year as Visiting Professor at the University of California in 1992 and at Cornell University in 2001 and is a member of the Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences and the British Sociological Association.

She was also admissions tutor for MSc Race and Ethnic Relations, which addresses the centrality of ethnicity to policy and social relations, particularly in the key areas of migration, asylum and citizenship, policing, education, and race relations legislation.