The field of ethnic and racial studies has been transformed in important ways over the past four decades. This Special Issue brings together nine original research papers presented in draft form at a conference to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies. In this introductory paper, we discuss key facets of contemporary debates and review some key arguments explored in the papers that follow. We also take the opportunity offered by this reflective issue to explore some of the issues that concern us editors of the journal and which formed part of the discussion at the conference.