The Dynamics of Race, Racism & Whiteness in Politics: How do racially minoritised students experience and navigate the whiteness of Politics disciplines in British Higher Education?

  • Siobhan O'Neill

Student thesis: Phd


Racial inequalities remain deeply embedded within and (re)produced through Higher Education (HE) in Britain. This has been highlighted both by student-led movements such as 'Why isn't my Professor Black?', 'Why is my Curriculum White?' and #RhodesMustFall as well as statistical data. Work interrogating this is ever-increasing and conversations about decolonisation have been taking place in disciplines like Geography, History and Sociology, as well as through more institutionally based projects such as Sofia Akel's (2019) Insider-Outsider report on Goldsmith's. These conversations have begun in Politics too and, as Robbie Shilliam argues, there is a real need to challenge the "colonial logic that repeats itself, albeit in different forms, across the whole discipline" (2021, p. 150). In this project, by centring the narratives of racially minoritised students, I take up the call to challenge the exclusionary whiteness of Politics disciplines and explore how racially minoritised students experience and navigate this. Based on thirty interviews, five participant diaries and follow-up interviews, and backgrounded by Critical Race Theory (CRT), Black Feminism and decolonial thought, I use counter-storytelling to capture a critical account that speaks back to and unsettles the whiteness of Politics and HE. I argue that institutional whiteness positions these students as 'bodies out of place' (but not total outsiders) in various ways (Puwar 2004a & 2004b). I find that the racially minoritised students in this study experience a Politics curricula that is 'narrow' as a result of its whiteness and/or Western- or Euro-centrism. From participants' accounts, I argue that the university is underpinned by a 'post-racial liberal' racism, which, is connected to, rather than distinct from, traditional forms of racism. I draw attention to the capital and assets racially minoritised students bring with them to university (Yosso 2005), and consider how, far from being passive, these students, agentically navigate and resist whiteness and racism at university.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRemi Joseph-Salisbury (Supervisor), Claire Alexander (Supervisor) & Andreja Zevnik (Supervisor)


  • Politics
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Counter-storytelling
  • Cultural Capital
  • Race and Higher Education
  • Whiteness
  • Racism
  • Decolonisation

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