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Affecting whiteness : racism as technology of affect (1)

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  • Ht Communities. Classes. Races
  • Astronomy
  • Political Science


This paper concerns itself with contemporary hegemonies of ‘whiteness’ which typically exist tacitly, in extensions and variations of historical forms of racism with which they share similar patterns of identification, aggrandizement and exclusion. ‘Whiteness’ here is conceptualized in two ways. Firstly, as a silent denominator of postimperial privilege that underpins even leftist celebrations of national/historical/cultural belonging (as in the example of David Blunkett’s affirmations of Englishness). Secondly, as an affective formation, a relational interplay of attractions and aversions, as a mode of subjectification that appears to exceed explicitly discursive forms. I focus here on the ideological life of affect, two examples of which are the ‘proof of affect’ - the warranting of particular relations of entitlement and exclusion on the basis of how real they feel and hence must be - and the constitutive role of the deployment of certain ‘affect positions’. I am interested in how Foucault’s notions of the technology and apparatus help us understand the instramentalization of affect and the ambiguous forms of causality and agency that may be said to emerge as a result. One might take as a case in point here the circuit of racist sentiment that flows between two indeterminate points: the strategic incitements of political rhetoric, and a shifting constellation of identifications (such as that of ‘whiteness’), neither of which can be fixed as the definitive localization of racism. Unless we are able to grapple with the vicissitudes of such modes of affective formation,and indeed, with how these modes come to be operationalized as technological elements of broader procedures of governmental logic, we fail to appreciate the tenacity and slipperiness of ‘whiteness’ in our postimperial era.

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