WHITE GOVERNMENTALITY: Urbanism, nationalism, racism

Barnor Hesse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

15 Scopus citations


There is a problem of imagining the nation in the British city. It a problem of ‘whiteness’.1 But this is not so easily defined given the hegemonic preoccupation with governing the ‘racialised other’. What concerns me here is how and why the nationalist imaginary2 increasingly invokes the regulatory structure of ‘whiteness’ in appropriating the political and cultural experiences of British cities. Mazzoleni (1993:293-4) has suggested that the imaginary of the city has an anthropomorphic projection and that the habitation of the city is lived as one’s body is encountered, as a recognisable and inimitable physiognomy. However, where the city is imagined as the nation’s sibling and conceived as the white body’s double, the concept of ‘otherness’ becomes a racialised alien intrusion, a difficult cultural virus. This nationalist imaginary circulates both opaquely and pointedly in diverse social discourses which insist that the racialisation3 of the city is a recent trend, reducible to the other’s sudden incursion. But, as I shall argue, racialisation cannot simply be collapsed into the temporality of the post-war experience. In this sense what might be described as the cultural problem of ‘whiteness’ refers not only to the occlusion of its racialised history, but also to its resistance to questioning as a racialised identity, particularly where it insinuates and conceals itself discursively as the horizon of universal representation. It is a ‘white mythology’ which ‘has erased within itself the fabulous scene that has produced it, the scene that nevertheless remains active and stirring, inscribed in white ink, an invisible design covered over in the palimpsest’ (Derrida 1982:213). This hegemonic structure of ‘whiteness’ forgets its contested antecedents, it forgets what ‘others’ remember; in effect this ‘white amnesia’ represses the historical con text of racism because the threat of the ‘racialised other’ absorbs all attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationImagining Cities
Subtitle of host publicationScripts, Signs and Memories
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781134761432
ISBN (Print)9780415144308
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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