New Territories in Critical Whiteness Studies, UoL 2010.
Back L-R Richard Tavernier, Barbara Samaluk, Noémi Michel; Front L-R Shona Hunter, Maddy Abbas, Say Burgin,
Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg.
White Spaces Network Logo 2009-2019
Critical academic research on whiteness
The White Spaces Research Network is an international interdisciplinary network of scholars, activists, students and practitioners who share an interest in issues of whiteness in the context of the intersectional power dynamics of global coloniality. It was established in 2009 by Dr Shona Hunter when she was Associate Professor in Social Policy in the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (CERS). There remains a limited archive of that past network activity which can be explored. In 2018 the academic network moved its institutional affiliation to the Centre for Race Education and Decoloniality (CRED) at Leeds Beckett University when Shona took up a Readership in the Carnegie School of Education. Please visit the White Spaces Project pages.
Academic research on the institutionalisation of whiteness
In conceptual terms the network engages with ideas from critical race and whiteness studies to advance multidimensional intersectional analysis of the complex and shifting social dynamics in contemporary so called 'multicultural', 'post race' or 'postcolonial' societies. It uses these ideas to produce an historicised understanding of these societies as established through the violent relations of intersecting global colonialities which persist in the institutional cultures of the present. It uses this global colonial analysis to push the boundaries of critical institutional analysis to understand liberal institutions, social policies and state practices as founded through the practice of whiteness. The key claim is that the idea of whiteness is foundational to liberal bureaucracy.
Network members have been working with this set of ideas to understand how the reassertion of liberal narratives of tolerance and civility serve to redraw the boundaries for national, institutional and organisational inclusion/exclusion in predictable, but also in new and surprising ways that point to the potential for change as well as the reproduction of inequality. Another key theme is the relationship between neoliberalisation, economic marketisation and whiteness. The overarching questions concern the ways in which whiteness is institutionalised and the relationship between this institutionalisation and personal identities, emotions and agencies in our contemporary global coloniality. The workings of these institutionalisation processes are captured in the idea of 'relational politics' in the book Power, Politics and the Emotions: Impossible Governance?.
White Spaces? Racialising White Femininities and Masculinities
The network has grown organically over many years through the efforts and ideas of many people. The ideas were seeded at a small conference stream organised collaboratively as part of the Gender Work and Organization conference at the Keele University (United Kingdom) in 2007. It was officially established through a launch conference held in Leeds (United Kingdom) in 2009. In its early stages it was supported by three tranches of funds from the Worldwide Universities Network including one tranche from a partnership bid between Dr Shona Hunter and Dr Catriona Elder at the University of Sydney which supported exchanges and workshops between Leeds and Sydney between 2010-2011. The WhiteSpaces digital masterclasses were established through this partnership running 2010-2013.
New Territories in Critical Whiteness Studies
On a practical level the network engages in a range of international and interdisciplinary research collaboration activities including exchanges, workshops, seminars and teaching between partners. These activities are both virtual and face to face. Face to face events have been held in Australia, England, South Africa, and Sweden. Virtual events including a series of 10 digital Masterclasses have included partners in Australia, England, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. There is an established early career/postgraduate arm of the network, originally forged through the efforts of Dr Say Burgin whilst she undertook doctoral research and later worked as a lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Leeds. Say’s work into Social Movement and African American History including the life of Rosa Parks is ongoing and she is now based at Dickinson in the USA.
Other key members of the organising team have included Gaia Giuliani Universidade de Coimbra as a visiting researcher with Shona Hunter at Leeds (2011-2012). Amanpreet Aluwhalia (2012-13) and later Naomi Anderson Whittaker (2013-14) contributed as interns with the network.
New Territories in Critical Whiteness Studies Conference, UoL 2010. Back L-R Richard Tavernier, Barbara Samaluk, Noémi Michel; Front L-R Shona Hunter, Maddy Abbas, Say Burgin, Dieuwertje Dyi Huijvg.
Institutional Whiteness in
The network has also included a range of community activists and policy makers working across public, private, and third sector institutions. Many of the academics involved in the network either have been or still are involved in multidisciplinary activities outside of an academic context in education, health, housing, social care, business and the arts.
Between 2012-2015 this multidisciplinary practice engaged work was developed internationally as part of efforts to build global North-South collaboration in partnership with colleagues across 6 South African Universities. This work was part of the British Academy funded bid ‘Challenging Institutional Whiteness in Postcolonial Contexts’ with Co-Investigator Professor Melissa Steyn at Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, one of the originators of Critical Whiteness Studies in South Africa.
Global colonial relationalities of whiteness
From its inception the network has also been engaged with arts and arts practice as a means of articulating powerful but obscured relationalities of global coloniality in institutional space. Shona’s five year association (first as a research associate and then as Visiting Associate Professor) with the Research Centre for Visual Identities in Arts and Design (VIAD) led by Associate Professor Leora Farber at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa grew out of the South/North collaborations nurtured through the South African based activities of the Challenging Institutional Whiteness project.
This association and the related collaborations came out of shared interests in the development of relational theorising around power and positionalities that dovetailed VIAD’s core thematic: namely, ways in which positionality is key to the workings of power in the formation of racialised and gendered identities and subjectivities in visual representation, as operative in historical and contemporary South African contexts. From the point of view of WhiteSpaces arts collaborations are important to resisting the siloing of bureaucratic institutional rationality and informal experiential feeling which is fundamental to the the reproduction of coloniality and whiteness.
By the Rivers of Birminam, VIAD, Johannesburg, 2014. L-R Shona Hunter, Vanley Burke,
Disorienting Race: Re(lationally)
Disorienting Race was a public event curated to mark 10 years of White Spaces Network activity and to mark the broadening of its public intellectual offering outside/inside the academy as WhiteSpaces. This event continued the WhiteSpaces tradition of bringing together publicly engaged interdisciplinary scholars, artists, poets, producers and performers to explore the ways in which intersecting hierarchies of race are disrupted and reinforced through everyday practices. Its starting point was the complex reality of the global colonial present in Yorkshire where the colonial construct of race frames, interactions, ideas and feelings. Live and screened performance and discussion engaged and explored diasporic community memory of the violent Partition of India and Pakistan; of growing-up part of the Caribbean diaspora shaping 1980s and 1990s Leeds; and in the experience of establishing a decolonial theatre company in contemporary Bradford. Bouncing off the anti-colonial rallying cry popularised by Ambalavaner Sivanandan: 'We are here because you were there', the event brought together differently positioned voices to think about how these multiple and complex positionalities can come together to intervene in our common life for anti-racist anti-colonial futures.
The network supports the development of teaching in the critical study of Whiteness in order to understand and challenge the workings of global coloniality in everyday contexts. This means that this teaching is always undertaken in the service of social justice transformation and decolonising knowledge, practice and being. When undertaken through the lenses of Black feminist, critical race, indigenous studies and postcolonial analysis and in connection with other forms of critical liberatory knowledges like queer theory and feminism, the critical study of whiteness aids the development of power literacy in everyday contexts. Therefore the approach of the network is interdisciplinary and the scope is much broader than understanding white identity. Its concern is understanding and challenging established relationships between systems and identities.
It is from within this sort of critical multidimensional
approach that the White Spaces Network contributes to curriculum decolonising interventions. For example as part of the work of the University of Johannesburg based STAND (Scholarship of Teaching in Arts and Design) with Brenden Gray and Tuliza Sindi. A significant part of the ongoing learning within the network is on the challenge of developing pedagogic approaches that do not reproduce the dynamics of racial traumatisation and violence in the classroom space.
Image credit: Hannah Ferreira-Allen
School of Thought Oil on dyed canvas 152 x 91cm 2017
The White Spaces learning gatherings are part of a process of informal learning and change through dialogue. Established in 2022 by Gaspard Rey and Shona Hunter, they build out of our experiences of being in dialogue across academic and other contexts as part of collective processes of learning.
The broad aim is to gather to learn with others who are engaging with ideas of global colonial whiteness which challenge substantialist and essentialist approaches to white identities and racialisation in anti-racism. The purpose is to extend and create a network of support for our antiracist thinking and practice which is consist with the network's approach to working against whiteness, without making prior assumptions as to how and in what ways challenges to whiteness might materialise.
The gatherings aim to be power cognisant and inclusive and they are rooted in anti-oppressive practice. Please sign up or get in contact to find out more.
Image credit: Hannah Ferreira-Allen
An Education Oil on dyed canvas 91 x 61cm 2017