Widening inequalities, contested identities, and escalating strife have fragmented the post-Cold War world. Questions of difference and community loom fundamental as peoples and nations grasp to moor themselves against centrifugal forces of global transformation. The academic disciplines of sociology and anthropology—which originated in the nineteenth century’s own confrontations with large-scale violence and flux—remain essential to our quest to make sense of, tame, and mend history’s latest version of a world in turmoil.
The dawn of the twenty-first century indeed finds a world rife with insecurity and conflict. Much of it is refracted through the lens of ethnicity, which frequently stands for or obscures other divisions such as political and economic inequalities. On the one hand, globalization knits together peoples and places in a tightening web. On the other hand, ethno-regional identities and movements are resurgent. Armed conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East, Indonesia, Central Africa, South America, and elsewhere testify to the importance among peoples of demarcating their differences. This became painfully evident on September 11, 2002, when a group of Islamic militants devastated the World Trade Towers, declaring to the world an extreme commitment to the assertion of their politico-cultural identity and vision.
How prepared are FIU students to inhabit this globe? Sociology and anthropology stand at the core of FIU’s mission of preparing students as citizens and leaders in a world of simultaneously more porous and more unyielding borders.
The contemporary professions—business, law, medicine, engineering, architecture, public administration, education, journalism, and so on—have come to recognize that their viability hinges increasingly on understanding a world of ethnic, national, gendered, generational, and other differences. The dynamics of such identities and hierarchies, along with methodologies for comprehending them, are indeed the focus of sociology and anthropology. The social sciences, then, are essential to the training of the next generations of effective and productive global citizens; and, as the history of the academy makes clear, the disciplines of sociology and anthropology are the anchors of the social sciences.
Multicultural, internationalized South Florida exemplifies the ruptures and the vitality that define the world today.1 As the region’s public research university, and as a young and expanding institution, FIU’s challenges are both daunting and enviable: it endeavors to combine the academic integrity and excellence of a traditional research university with active engagement in a metropolis of striking diversity, inequity, and strife.
FIU’s location in South Florida has far-reaching consequences for how we envision our Department’s research, teaching, and service roles. At the same time, however, these roles are most effectively carried out in ways that emphasize theoretical, methodological, and geographic context for understanding Greater Miami. We strive to provide such contexts in two ways: first, by privileging the theoretical and methodological priorities of the academic disciplines of sociology and anthropology; and second, by exploring comparative-global themes that transcend South Florida, such as studies of other localities around the world and of overarching cultural and institutional themes.
B. Greater Miami in World Perspective
Demographic projections for Florida—the country’s fourth most populous state—have decisive implications for FIU’s Department of Sociology & Anthropology. Florida’s population has boomed: by 24% from 1990 to the century’s turn.2 The state’s tier of 18-24 year olds is swelling from 1.25 million in 2000 to a projected 1.54 million in 2010, pressing for space in the State University System. Increasing numbers of 25-44 year olds are joining the younger group as SUS students. Demand for undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs mounts not only as the 25-44 year-old population has grown (by 15% in 1990-2000), but also as its members negotiate the fast-shifting terrain of a service-geared, regional job market that is increasingly integrated with Latin America, the Caribbean, and the world. Cutting across these changes, moreover, is a striking ethnic transition: Hispanics are surging from 14% of the state’s population in 1995 to a predicted 24% in 2025.
FIU’s home, Miami-Dade County, is the epicenter of Florida’s transformations. Hispanics climbed from 36% of Miami-Dade’s residents in 1980 to 57% in 2000. Driving this increase has been massive immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean to South Florida. This, in turn, has engendered another marked trend: demographic realignment among Hispanics themselves. In 1990-2000 Cubans dropped from 59% to 50% of Miami-Dade’s Hispanics. Greater Miami’s Hispanic diversification continues, particularly as political and economic crises push a widening diversity of Latin Americans into South Florida. Overlapping with these trends, as well as hinting at the sizable weight of non-Hispanic Caribbean immigration, is that foreign-born residents rose from 26% to 40% of Miami-Dade’s population in 1980-2000.
South Florida’s demographic trajectory adds new layers to what among major U.S. cities is Greater Miami’s unparalleled integration—socio-cultural, market, and political—with Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition it raises troubling questions concerning those groups, such as the vast majority of local African-Americans, who are excluded from and subordinated to these networks.
Greater Miami’s changing ethnic fabric and deepened continuities with Latin America and the Caribbean are themselves embedded in massive transformations of the global order. Among these are world economic restructuring, political realignments and violence, international flows of migration and refugees, and transnational communities and social movements. Miami, as the gateway city of the Americas, is neither immune to these dynamics nor can it ignore them. A prime example is the current surge in local immigrants from crisis-ridden South America. Looming large as well is anticipation of a post-Castro Cuba. Thus, virtually no aspect of public life in Greater Miami—least of all its profound inequities of political voice and government policy—can be understood apart from local, national, Caribbean-Latin American, and worldwide patterns of political economy, race-ethnicity, social class, and socio-cultural identity.
This conclusion also pertains to the formidable challenge of protecting the fragile ecologies that traverse South Florida and the Caribbean Basin. Here, too, both the causes of ecological destruction and its consequences—including heightened vulnerability to natural disasters—are inextricably bound up with transnational matters of political economy, ethno-nationality, class inequality, and identity.
How can we not only mitigate South Florida’s problems but also take advantage of its multicultural opportunities? No constructive answer to this question is imaginable without the premise of a solid comprehension of culture and institutions. Promoting such comprehension is fundamental to the missions of FIU and its Department of Sociology & Anthropology.
C. The Disciplines of Sociology & Anthropology Sociologists and anthropologists have been at the forefront of investigating the broad issues that are critical to understanding Greater Miami in world perspective. Among the relevant focal points of investigation are global political economy and comparative political sociology; race-ethnicity and gender; urbanization; migration and transnational communities; and environmental risk and sustainable development.