Dr Shona Hunter’s Guest Space Talk
Holding WhiteSpaces: Refusing white catharsis
White people have not always been “white,” nor will they always be “white.” It is a political alliance. Things will change. (Amoja Three Rivers, 1991)
WhiteSpaces was established in 2009 as a thinking and development space which names whiteness as an orientation to power and domination in the context of our current global coloniality. Aspiring to bring together scholars, activists, practitioners with an interest in critically analysing and dismantling white supremacy it has always been inside-outside the academy and connected to multiple constituencies and concerns related to resisting the formation of whiteness.
This project started life as a critical engagement with ideas and thinking on whiteness as symbolic material and psychic violence and domination through engagement with Black Scholarship from Morrison, Du Bois, Baldwin, Kovel; as well as with social scientific analysis of white racism by David Wellman and Joe Feagin; and then strongly influenced by the critically oriented Black, queer and indigenous feminists like Robin Weigman, Sara Ahmed, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Vron Ware and Sarah Nuttall all of whom warn of the dangers of shoring up whiteness through an engagement with it, no matter how critical. As a project focussed on visibilising the constitutive violence of institutional whiteness its role was in challenging the emphasis in whiteness studies on white identities and individual privilege and dislodging the innocence and comfort of whiteness within the academy.
Established at a time when conversations about whiteness were on the wane (again) WhiteSpaces has always trodden a fine line between reproduction and resistance. Since that time the public conversation about whiteness has (again) become more widespread and amplified in the context of increased race resistance to institutionalised white supremacy.
I want to use today’s session to reflect on the problematics and prospects for projects which are ostensibly critical of whiteness in a context where whiteness amasses its power through (self) critical practices, through the cumulation of critical capital and the (attempted) ownership of critical space.
Dr Shona Hunter is a writer, researcher, educator, speaker on power, privilege, oppression, currently Reader in the Centre for Race Education and Decoloniality at Leeds Beckett University UK. She has previously held academic posts at the Universities of Birmingham, Lancaster and Leeds in the UK and has held visiting positions in Australia, Germany and South Africa including 5 years as visiting researcher and visiting Associate Professor at the University of Johannesburg in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design. She publishes widely on race, racialisation and whiteness and its lived, material and affective dynamics with a particular interest in the way these dynamics are constitutive of liberal and neoliberal state practices and institutional life. Her last single authored book was Power, Politics and the Emotions: Impossible Governance (Routledge, 2015). With Christi van der Westhuizen of Nelson Mandela University South Africa she has just finished co-editing the Routledge International Handbook of Critical Studies in Whiteness available in December 21.
Shona also does a range of public and arts curatorial work related to her work. When the Covid 19 Pandemic hit she was due to curates a headliner and related Fringe stream at the Leeds International Festival on Future. Identity. Power: Reframing Justice and Inequality. She is a Trustee of Compass Live Art https://compassliveart.org.uk/ and sits on the National Standards Assessment Panel for Rape Crisis England and Wales https://rapecrisis.org.uk/about-us/national-service-standards/
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