White Spaces Network

Ontological and epistemic ‘whiteness’ in academia

22 August 2011
Universities of Cape Town, Sydney, Leeds and Southampton

Articles discussed

Supplementary Reading

Postgraduate Convenors

Participant Introductions

The idea of these WUN sponsored virtual seminars is that we build a sense of community amongst postgraduate scholars working or with an interest in the broad field of Critical Whiteness Studies within core White Spaces partner institutions. The idea is to extend our scholarly networks, in particular to move us out of our particular national and regional intellectual contexts.  To this end, we will begin the seminar with a brief ‘whip-around’ about our projects.

Lead discussant: Haley McEwen, iNCUDISA (UCT)

The position and role of critical race theory and whiteness studies within traditional academic institutional knowledge structures has been precarious. Working from within the ‘belly of the beast’, critical race and whiteness scholars pose epistemic and ontological challenges to the very structures and spaces they find themselves within. Okun’s piece shows us how white supremacy culture operates within Universities as organisations which are socially positioned as ‘knowledge factories’, institutes of higher learning are positioned to reproduce the white supremacist status quo. Dwyer and Jones’ article allows us to see whiteness as an epistemology, how this epistemology operates through and/or within universities can be accessed through Okun’s articulation of white supremacy culture. Thus, the existence of critical race and whiteness studies contradicts the very structures which house them or do they? The knowledge produced within this field not only confronts the racist knowledge production historically generated in universities, but also the entire existence of the structures and agents which form the University.

Lead discussant: Lwando Scott (UCT)

Stanfield takes on ethnocentric knowledge production in the social sciences, noting that social scientific knowledge and ethnocentrism are related. He argues that Euro-American hegemony is reproduced in social sciences as formalized and objectified knowledge systems. In the process experiences of minorities tend to be ignored or distorted in social analysis, as these experiences are taken for granted in social science methodologies, although they differ from the Euro-American reality. Positivist science is critiqued for the role it played in the justification of white rule over non-white society. The article stresses that no matter how well a research tool is developed, it is still a human construct. Social knowledge such as theology, science and magic are different, not inferior or superior to science. They present different ways of organizing life experiences.

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