Author Archive


Posted: April 19, 2012 by Madeline-Sophie (Maddy) Abbas in Uncategorized

Encountering Racism Down Under:

Antipodean perspectives on the construction of tolerance and white sovereignty




The University of Leeds


The University of Southampton


The University of Cape Town


The University of Sydney



1. Principal Reading:[1]

Ghassan Hage (1998) ‘Good White Nationalists: The Tolerant Society as a White Fantasy’, in White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, Sydney: Pluto Press, pp. 78-116.

Aileen Moreton-Robinson and Fiona Nicoll (2006) ‘We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches: Protesting cultures of white possession’, Journal of Australian Studies 89: 149-186. 



2. Synopses

Hage: ‘Good White Nationalists’

~ Rebecca Williamson


Hage’s chapter critically discusses the discourse of tolerance in Australian society as it relates to the history of immigration, multiculturalism and the integration of the ‘Other’ into the national imaginary. Hage’s main aim is to deconstruct the power relations implicit in the discourse of tolerance. He argues that this discourse works to identify the ‘good white nationalist’ – a normative notion of the accepting, non-racist citizen – in opposition to the ‘evil white nationalist’ who is intolerant and racist; a separation that he argues is ideological and strategic. He understands tolerance as a capacity, and describes it as an active practice that is equally constituted by a capacity to not tolerate, thus, tolerance and intolerance coexist. Only a certain segment of society (i.e. white nationalists) can claim this capacity which is based on a sense of ownership over an imagined national space – a kind of spatialised power that involves the active positioning of the ‘other’ within the national imaginary; an act he equates to a form of symbolic violence. Rather than being opposites, ‘evil’ and ‘good’ white nationalists represent different thresholds along a continuum of tolerance. Hage argues that the discourse of tolerance works to mask the fact that practices of exclusion and inclusion are both based on an equal claim to the right to manage national space. Thus, the discourse of tolerance acts as a form of ‘tolerant racism’, which disempowers and objectifies ‘others’ (migrants, asylum seekers, etc.), while also mystifying the very practices and discourses through which they are victimized.


Moreton-Robinson & Nicoll: ‘We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches’

~ Rebecca O’Brien


Moreton-Robinson and Nicoll’s (2006) article presents the concept of ‘patriarchal white sovereignty’ as the underlying regime of power that ensures that white, particularly male members of the Australian nation retain more rights to enter, exist and act within public spaces than their non-white counterparts. Patriarchal white sovereignty is presented as an ideological tool utilized primarily to reproduce, confirm and cement whiteness and masculinity as the central keys to ownership of Australia as a nation. It is not logic enacted through explicit legal or social inequality, but is instead based upon the denial of the systemic privileges afforded to white people through historically established legal discrimination.  According to Moreton-Robinson & Nicoll (2006:150) this ensures that even though all citizens may have equal rights under the law, ‘not all citizens have the resources, capacities and opportunities to exercise them equally’. In accordance with Hage (1998), Moreton-Robinson & Nicoll (2006) suggest that patriarchal white sovereignty extends beyond the right to occupy a physical space, but also to exercise tolerance of the ‘other’ as well as define the limits at which this tolerance may be revoked. Two case studies are presented as examples of points at which patriarchal white sovereignty has explicitly exposed itself in response to perceived transgressions of ‘white behavioural norms and morality’; the 2006 ‘violent attacks’ at Cronulla Beach and a heritage protection claim by Indigenous peoples in Victoria over land ‘owned’ by a white male. Through these cases, Moreton-Robinson & Nicoll highlight the assumption of the right to ownership imbued within patriarchal white sovereignty, the ways through which the uncooperative ‘Other’ is presented and excluded from the umbrella of ‘Australian’ and the ever-present threat of violence that is most often underlying, however at times (such as at Cronulla in 2006) may become manifest in order to remind the racialized ‘Other’ of the repercussions of pushing the limits of tolerance outlined by the white, Australian ‘local’.


3. Food for Thought


Rebecca and Rebecca have raised some (thought-provoking) questions to help get the conversation going. Please feel free to engage with any of these or to offer your own interpretation of the two readings and their relevance (or not) to your own research and/or experience.


  • Spatial metaphors have particular prominence in the Australian context, where the national borders are (relatively) clearly defined and as reflected in the symbolic importance of the beach. How are nationalist spatial imaginaries/borders deployed in other contexts (beyond the US) to reinforce racial dominance?


  • In Australia, racist commentaries have been justified as a protest against ‘political correctness’ (i.e. the discourse of tolerance) that purportedly blocks ‘freedom of speech’ such that the either/or logic seems to have short-circuited any alternative spaces for constructive or critical dialogue. Has this been invoked in other contexts and are there any alternatives that move beyond the tolerator/tolerated binary?


  • Hage has been criticized for essentialising the categories of ‘white’ and ‘non-white’ Australians, and undermining genuine attempts to support migrant integration and ethnic diversity by the white middle-class. Does this criticism have validity?


  • Moreton-Robinson & Nicoll’s work has been developed out of, and applied largely to, the Australian context. Is there a place for analyses utilising patriarchal white sovereignty in other contexts?


  • Is the concept of patriarchal white sovereignty applicable in postcolonial societies within which the Indigenous population is numerically larger than the colonial or settler population?


  • Moreton-Robinson’s body of work demonstrates the existence and repercussions of patriarchal white sovereignty, but does little to develop responses through which it may be challenged. How might we begin to develop a response to these issues?


  • To what extent can the power of the media be challenged in the face of its repetition of representations of otherness based on exclusionary discourses of white possession?


  • The way in which discourses of tolerance work to mask power relations are a feature of both articles. How are these articulated in other contexts/countries? (e.g. does the discourse of race relations in the UK operate in the same way?)



  1. 4.     Network and Institutional Contacts


Say Burgin




Maddy Abbas




Daria Tkacz




Lwando Scott


Cape Town


Tristan Enright






[1] N.B. Reading material available electronically from institutional convenors.


New Territories in Critical Whiteness Studies Postgraduate Conference

Posted: November 11, 2010 by Madeline-Sophie (Maddy) Abbas in Academia, Activism, Racialisation


L-R: Back row: Richard Tavernier, University of Leeds; Barbara Samaluk, Queen Mary, University of London; Noémi Michel, University of Geneva. Front row: Dr Shona Hunter, Madeline-Sophie (Maddy) Abbas, Say Burgin, all University of Leeds; Jennifer Dulek, University of Illinois; Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg, University of Manchester.

Conference Report

As part of its efforts to foster future research leaders within the field of critical whiteness studies, the White Spaces Research Network, led by Dr Shona Hunter, (University of Leeds), has launched a postgraduate arm.  The postgraduate network is semi-autonomous to the broader white spaces network and is run by and for postgraduate students.  It aims to create a graduate community grounded in an understanding of the specific pressures, constraints, and opportunities facing postgraduates working in the area of critical whiteness studies.  Central to the network is its promotion of international collaboration between members to advance this evolving field into new territories through the use of innovative technologies to share information and develop research partnerships. 

The postgraduate network held its inaugural conference ‘New Territories in Critical Whiteness Studies Postgraduate Conference’ over 18-20 August at the University of Leeds, with financial support from the Social Policy Association Small Grants Fund, the Economic History Society, the Leeds Humanities Research Institute, the Worldwide Universities Network, and the University of Leeds’ School of History and School of Sociology and Social Policy. ‘New Territories’ provided an opportunity for postgraduate students engaged in the field of critical whiteness studies to present their research and develop the direction of the new postgraduate arm.

More than twenty postgraduate delegates from six different countries attended the conference, including participants from the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. In addition, the conference’s keynote speaker, Dr Cath Ellis, University of Huddersfield, added to the conference’s international scope through insightful contributions on her native Australia. The participation by a number of European delegates from outside of the UK was an especially exciting feature considering the lack of attention that critical whiteness studies has paid to this part of the globe.

Research presented by conference delegates confirms that postgraduate students today are pushing critical whiteness studies into new territories. Contributors presented research from a range of disciplines – music, sociology, history, political science, English literature, education and other disciplines. Conference participation also represented the full spectrum of postgraduate academic experience; MA students presented research alongside doctoral students that have either just begun or are in the final stages of their research. Delegates presented fifteen different papers under five conference themes: the racialisation of English spaces, challenges to national identities, white antiracist projects and problems, white privilege, and methodological challenges in critical whiteness studies.

Taking a cue from the larger White Spaces network and its inaugural conference in 2009, the ‘New Territories’ conference included an opportunity for ‘Dialogue and Debate’. This session provided an open space to think through various debates and discussions that had arisen throughout the conference and how these issues/challenges/debates might be carried into the postgraduate network. During this session, delegates in one group concentrated on the question ‘What is whiteness?’ They discussed why this concept proved to be so ‘slippery’ for scholars and the different ways it was understood and utilised by conference delegates and other critical whiteness scholars. Participants in another ‘Dialogue and Debate’ group focused on the connections and disconnections between critical whiteness studies in the academy and collective struggles for racial justice taking place outside of academia. A number of delegates from both groups expressed concern over the lack of impact of the field outside of the academy, and they considered how the postgraduate network might position itself in order to more directly engage with antiracism efforts and practitioners. As with the 2009 ‘White Spaces?’ conference, this session provided an important moment for deeper and more candid reflection on recurring challenges within the field.

Reflecting the postgraduate network’s aim to assist the career development of postgraduates, the conference provided two strong training components. Dr Cath Ellis’ address, ‘Teaching and Unlearning: Critical ‘Race’ Pedagogy and Online Learning Environments’, asked delegates to reflect on their (current and future) teaching roles. Dr Ellis argued that online learning environments prove useful in the instruction of critical race theory and that they may offer less embodied ways in which to discuss ‘race’ issues that may enable more candid, reflective thinking that distils some of the emotional burdens that can accompany class room discussions.  As a non-traditional teaching format, Dr Ellis argues that e-learning can be a ‘catalyst for change’ since it encourages teachers to re-think their teaching practices and may be a move towards de-stabilising normative approaches to teaching critical race studies.   

Tamsine O’Riordan, senior commissioning editor for Zed Publishers, talked on a very different subject, but one pertinent to all postgraduates – the challenges of academic publishing.  In terms of opportunities for future collaborations, the demand of publishing for academics against a somewhat bleak outlook of available opportunities presents some concerns to all early career academics.  Tamsine nonetheless provided invaluable advice for postgraduates trying to get a foot into publishing including:  know your publisher and audience, network for edited collections, contact publishers with your book idea before giving up your life to write it, and finally, should you be lucky enough to secure a contract don’t make an enemy of your publisher!  These key points provided us with some ammunition for the difficult road ahead.

Building the Network

The central goal of the conference was to map out future directions of the postgraduate arm. As a research group within the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), this organisation has provided a great deal of assistance in creating sustainable mechanisms by which the White Spaces Network can promote and develop international collaborations.  To move the postgraduate arm forward, Kirsty Mattinson, the Leeds representative of WUN, and Louise Heery, WUN’s general manager, introduced WUN-supported options and opportunities, including a number of different technologies that support innovation in research and education globally through interdisciplinary collaboration, exchange and e-learning.  Kirsty and Louise highlighted a couple of innovative collaborations developed by postgraduates through WUN, including a postcolonial studies e-journal, a virtual seminar series and an online information sharing system.  These initiatives were presented as vehicles through which the network might sustain itself and extend its reach.

Following WUN’s presentation, delegates ended the conference with an in-depth discussion on the postgraduate arm’s future and the best mechanisms and resources at our disposal to achieve this aim.  Participants decided on four different development strands:

  • E-mail list: as our ongoing communication tool for resource and information sharing on events and funding. 
  • Blog: with the aim to offer a platform to bring critical whiteness issues to a wider audience, both academic and non-academic, through thought-pieces, responses to current events, and interactive comments.  The blog will provide opportunities for peer review on articles and an outlet for ideas, as well as a collaborative enterprise that can respond to issues and debates in the field in a dynamic and thought-provoking way. 
  • Virtual seminar series: to facilitate ongoing empirical, methodological, and theoretical discussions as well as ‘Master Classes’ within critical whiteness studies that can be accessed by participants internationally. 
  • Future conference: planned for 2012 to serve as a benchmark for reflecting on the work achieved by the postgraduate arm, how it has developed, and deciding on new directions for the network and its contribution to the field of critical whiteness studies. 

The discussion surrounding how to proceed with the network’s development raised many questions, which are pertinent to most research endeavours.  One key question was how to present the identity of the network?  Here, interestingly, was the crux of the debate of whiteness itself – how should the network locate itself within the debates of whiteness? How should issues of power and hierarchy be negotiated when establishing and maintaining a network?  How should the network promote social change? And in this role, what is the network’s relation to the ‘real world’? All of these debates, which have their parallels in the field itself, were raised by delegates.  Since no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach could easily be found, these debates will continue to provide food for thought on the future of the network and serve to demonstrate the vibrant and complex nature of the field. 

In response, the network provides a dynamic, challenging, and critical space in which to debate these issues and open up dialogue within the field of critical whiteness studies and beyond.  The conference provided a space to explore the diversity of perspectives, both ideologically and geographically, and the personal engagement that all our delegates brought to the task of researching whiteness and white ethnicities.  The network aims to build on this engagement and to reflect the debates, challenges, and developments in critical whiteness studies, and with the collaborative efforts of all delegates, it proposes to be an exciting and ongoing enterprise.  Dr Ellis summed it up well in her exiting remark that the future of critical whiteness studies is in ‘great hands.’  We hope that the network will be a testament to Dr Ellis’ affirmation.

The network is now live at  Anyone interested in becoming involved in the PGR arm of the network should contact Say Burgin or Maddy Abbas

Hello world!

Posted: October 19, 2010 by Madeline-Sophie (Maddy) Abbas in Uncategorized