From Noxious Quarters to Affluent Ethno-Burbs

Race and Space in Asian American History

Authored by: Shelley Sang-Hee Lee

The Routledge Handbook of Asian American Studies

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415738255
eBook ISBN: 9781315817514
Adobe ISBN: 9781317813927

10.4324/9781315817514.ch19

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Abstract

Working from the now commonly accepted idea that race is a social construct with a range of material consequences, recent scholarship on race in America has revealed much about how racial categories are generated, manipulated, and solidified, as well as how they have changed over time. In Asian American studies, and ethnic studies more generally, attention to space has illuminated some of the discussions of race and racial formation. This is not in itself a new focus, as some of the earliest scholars doing research about Asians in America—sociologists affiliated with the University of Chicago—often presented their findings about ethnic and racial difference via spatial mappings and conceptualizations. 1 Going back further, to draw on Edward Said’s discussion of the West’s construction of the East, Europeans as early as the Greeks during the fourth century BCE linked cultural difference to spatial distance, and few parts of the world, they surmised, were as distinct as the “East” and “West.” Subsequently embedded in U.S. culture and thought, these ideas informed how Americans viewed Asia and its people. A task of recent scholars, then, has been to dismantle such assumptions in order to explain how they were—rather than natural, common-sense knowledge about people, space, and geography—the outcome of processes that shored up racial differences and hierarchies.

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