York University social science Professor Kamala Kempadoo is the 2018 recipient of the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) Lifetime Achievement Award.
A Caribbean scholar for nearly three decades, Kempadoo possesses a stellar international reputation and specializes in researching, writing and teaching on the issues of gender, sex and sexuality, and sex work in the English-, Spanish-, French- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean. The award, which she received in Havana on June 8, recognizes her outstanding achievements in academic leadership relating to the multidisciplinary field of Caribbean studies.
“I am very honoured by this award, and especially pleased that it brings recognition to the field of Caribbean sexualities studies,” said Kempadoo. “I am also very proud to be the first woman in the CSA to achieve this award. And, while it signals a pinnacle in my career, I am delighted to see a growing number of Caribbeanist scholars taking up sexualities studies, some of whom may draw upon my work but, more importantly, are taking the earlier insights into new directions and depths.
“None of this, however, would have been possible without the support and cooperation I have received over the years from sex workers and feminists in the Caribbean and beyond. I am grateful to them for trusting me to walk with them and to contribute to the struggles for sexual and gender justice.”
The CSA describes her as “one of the most important scholars and influential thinkers on the global sex trade, sex work, human trafficking and sexual-economic relations,” and refers to her research as “groundbreaking” and “critical” to the fields of sociology, race and ethnic studies, transnational feminism, gender and sexuality studies, and postcolonial studies.
“Professor Kempadoo’s contributions to Caribbean feminist gender, sexuality and labour studies are foundational and unparalleled in their impact across these fields,” said CSA member and York University anthropology Professor David Murray.
Kempadoo has been an active member of the CSA for more than two decades, where her participation has led to the creation of the CSA’s Sexualities Working Group, whose members nominated her for the award. Within the CSA, she is known as a generous mentor, a dedicated teacher and a community builder who has supported and shaped generations of researchers from across the Caribbean and throughout the diaspora.
“My own research has been profoundly influenced by one of her most famous books, Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race and Sexual Labour, the first comprehensive critical overview of sexuality research in the Caribbean incorporating transnational feminist, critical race and political economy perspectives,” said Murray. “In this book, Dr. Kempadoo challenges traditional anthropological and sociological ‘culturalist’ frameworks, which often ignored the ongoing impact of colonial racism on gendered and sexual identities and relationships in multiple economic spheres across the Caribbean region.”
Kempadoo’s pioneering work also includes the edited books Global Sex Workers: Rights and Redefinition; Sun, Sex and Gold: Tourism and Sex Work in the Caribbean; and Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work and Human Rights.
“She is an extraordinary public intellectual and someone who has dedicated her life to investigating, writing and promoting emancipatory knowledge of the Caribbean and its populations, particularly its most stigmatized and vulnerable,” said University of California – Riverside Professor Amalia L. Cabezas, author of Economies of Desire: Sex and Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“For her evidence-grounded activism she is a trusted partner of sex worker, feminist and sexual rights organizations and a sought-after and respected mentor and tutor of new generations of scholars within and beyond the Caribbean,” said Caroline Allen, a researcher of social science, public health and feminism based in Trinidad, who calls Kempadoo’s work “invaluable.”
Kempadoo’s research has also been published in dozens of academic journals and reports for international agencies such as UNIFEM, CARICOM, UNAIDS and UNESCO. In 2017, the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality honoured Kempadoo with the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award.