The Power of Whiteness as a Mythology of the Good

An Open Seminar with Dr Shona Hunter

  • Wed 24 Feb 21

    17:00 - 18:30

  • Online

  • Event speaker

    Dr Shona Hunter, Leeds Beckett University UK

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars

  • Event organiser

    Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, Department of

  • Contact details

    Dr Kevin Lu

Join us for this fascinating talk on the power of whiteness as a mythology of the good.

Amidst increasing mainstream recognition that whiteness is an identity position which implies an orientation to power and privilege the way this orientation manifests is highly contested and often misunderstood. One commonly recognised affective mode of whiteness is the fragility and defensiveness through which whiteness protects itself against interrogation. This is largely a defensiveness driven by the desire to resist seeing the white self as violent and violating of others, to resist seeing the ‘darker’ side of the self. It is a defence against the discomfort of recognising whiteness as a manifestation of fear, shame, guilt. When we begin to understand whiteness as a master signifier which works as a form of general protection against the human experience of difference, uncertainty and related anxiety, we have starting point from which to see how it sutures into everyday meanings and practices such as ideals of good professionalism.

The heart of my paper today explores how whiteness works as a master signifier to create and hold together ideas of the good health and social care professional and to situate some professionals outside of the idea of the good, as the bad, unhelpful or problematic professional. It builds out of the analysis of an imagined dialogue between a range of health and social care professionals around what it is like to be a professional in the context of health and social care change. Through the interpretation of the symbolic, material and affective dynamics in a dialogue about profession we can see the ways race and Whiteness comes to be the invisible frame for ideas of profession through intersecting ideals of gender, class, generation. 

As people working with emotion, those working with psychoanalytic ideas have an opportunity here to enter into the debate on fragility and defensiveness to help societal understandings of power and its relationship to affect and material reality and personal and social discomfort. And yet, there is evidence of white defence here too in the shape and profile of the psychoanalytic body of ideas, its professional profile and ways of practicing. So; the questions remain what should be done? What can be done? How can community be reinvented? What does that reinvention mean and what shape could it take? 

The speaker

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 Birmingham, Lancaster and latterly Leeds UK and has held visiting positions at Sydney (Australia) Mannheim (Germany), and in South Africa at Cape Town, Rhodes and for 5 years as visiting researcher and visiting Associate Professor at the University of Johannesburg in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design.

She has published a range of single authored and edited works, including monographs, journal special editions and articles 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. She has led collaborative and individual fellowship based research projects from the World Universities Network, The British Academy, the Economic and Social Research Council and Research Council’s UK (now UKRI) in these areas. Her WhiteSpaces work now in its tenth year moves across academic and public locations, bringing together academics, activists and practitioners from 17 disciplines across 23 countries who have an interest in thinking critically about what it means to be white in global coloniality. 

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