Whitewash: Negotiating Whiteness in 21st Century South Africa

full name / name of organization: 
Research Centre, Visual Identities in Art and Design, University of Johannesburg

Although the complex and contested discourses surrounding whiteness are unavoidable in South African politics and popular culture, the loose field of analysis sometimes called 'critical whiteness studies' has almost no coherent presence within the South African academy at large. In the past 15 years individual sociologists, historians, literary theorists and others have made invaluable contributions to a critical understanding of whiteness in South Africa. Despite these important interventions, though, general thinking about whiteness has often failed to contextualise it as a construction, to position it as a naturalised or institutionalised entity in a social system constructed by participants from within a particular culture, or to provide insight into the ways in which race informs particular experiences of selfhood. The WHITEWASH project was born out of the realisation of this lack and our concurrent desire to critically rethink, renegotiate and reframe whiteness within the global South. In a post-apartheid context in which most white social and economic privilege has proven remarkably resilient, the interrogation of whiteness, beyond simplistic narratives of guilt or refusal of guilt, is an important project.

The most canonical and heavily-cited writing on whiteness has thus far come out of the global North. Historical and current work being done in the field of global whiteness studies forms a backdrop to and, to some extent, informs this project. Whiteness studies questions the mechanisms of power that support and sustain whiteness, draws attention to and deconstructs the master narrative of whiteness and engages with processes of de-authorising whiteness by revisiting subject positions from within the contexts of history, culture and power. But while global whiteness studies can offer useful historical and methodological frameworks for analyses of post-apartheid white subjectivities, South Africa's apartheid history and its demographics also suggest significant areas of difference. Some of these have been identified in the work of individual researchers in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the South. Collectively, their vital interventions point to the emergence of a fledgling South African whiteness studies. VIAD hopes to develop this nascent field by bringing these scholars together to develop a new collective of researchers who are rewriting the way in which 'race' can be conceptualised outside the North. WHITEWASH is comprised of a series of workshops and events as well as an online network and conversational space. Its components are intended as forums for developing existing and emergent discussions and providing opportunities for publication, collaboration, dialogue and debate.

WHITEWASH will be launched with a two-day interdisciplinary workshop in March 2013. WHITEWASH I marks the first time that contemporary South African whiteness has been the object of a sustained scholarly enquiry that goes beyond individual research. It will bring together South African and international scholars, ranging from postgraduate and early level researchers to high-profile authors from a range of disciplines.

One of the workshop's aims is to introduce critical whiteness studies to the South African academy with a view to developing forms of discourse that are particular to whitenesses in the global South. Amongst other factors, this entails a consideration of forms of
post-apartheid whiteness; an examination of whether existing critical (Northern) theories of whiteness may be usefully adapted to the developing South African discourse; the effects of democratisation on white identity formations; and relations between the social, political and cultural construct of whiteness, privilege and power.

Although this first workshop deals with questions of whiteness in South Africa, future events and projects will expand this focus elsewhere in Africa and the global South. We invite you to be part of the unfolding conversation, either by submitting an abstract for a 20 minute paper or by attending the workshop.

Possible subject areas include:

- theories of whiteness from the South
- whiteness with/against blackness; selfhood and otherness
- representations of whiteness in literature, film, visual arts, design, media and cultural production
- performing/performances of whiteness
- emergent conceptions of post-apartheid South African white identities
- migration, diaspora and (self)exile
- gender, sexuality, desire
- beauty, fashion, commodification
- cultural crossovers, entanglements, hybridisation and interdependence
- visibility and invisibility; inclusion and exclusion; belonging and displacement
- militarisation, violence and power
- religion and myth
- poverty, wealth and post-apartheid economies
- politics and practices of space and place

The workshop's format is designed to encourage interaction and active engagement. It is made up of panels rather than keynote speakers, including a plenary panel featuring some of South Africa's most important thinkers on whiteness. There will be opportunities for peer-reviewed publication of certain papers. Submissions not selected for the initial workshop may be invited to participate in future events. Please note that we are unable to provide financial support for travel or registration, but we aim to keep the workshop affordable to facilitate maximum participation.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to whitewashproject@gmail.com by 15 December 2012. We welcome submissions from all areas of the humanities and social sciences. Suggestions for pre-formed panels of three 20-minute papers are also welcome.

Emails should be titled Whitewash 1. Please provide the following:

author(s) name(s)
email address(es)
title of abstract
body of abstract

Authors will be notified of the outcomes of their submissions by mid-January 2013. We are interested in collaborations with other institutions, and welcome comments, blog posts, related calls for papers and publication announcements, as well as queries and suggestions for expanding and improving the project. Relevant information can be sent to whitewashproject@gmail.com.

WHITEWASH is affiliated with Africa's first major international conference on whiteness in the South, to be held in Johannesburg in September 2014.