Geography Geographies of Whiteness
Carrie Mott
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0145


While geographic scholarship has addressed race and racial inequality since the 1970s and 1980s, the discipline has only more recently taken up the place of whiteness as an object of scholarly inquiry. Critiques of geography have, since the late 1990s, pointed to the ways whiteness and white supremacy are implicated through geographic research and publication praxis, as well as within the cultures of geography departments. Geographies of whiteness draw on multidisciplinary literatures throughout the humanities, social sciences, education, and legal studies, a reflection of the interdisciplinarity of critical whiteness studies overall. Critical whiteness studies has its origins in such early texts as Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, published in 1952 (cited as Fanon 2008 under Foundational Texts), and bell hooks’s 1984 Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (cited as hooks 2015 under Foundational Texts). The field originated through emphases within legal studies and educational studies on critical race theory; however, whiteness was taken up within sociology with Ruth Frankenberg’s White Women, Race Matters (Frankenberg 1993, cited under Foundational Texts), marking one of the earliest projects to mobilize social science research toward directly interrogating white people about whiteness. In 1997, the first academic conference to focus explicitly on whiteness was held at the University of California, Berkeley, and, since then, a number of scholars within geography and elsewhere have taken up the call to directly interrogate the role of whiteness and the place of white bodies within systems of racialized oppression. In human geography, studies of whiteness are found throughout the discipline, variously considering how whiteness manifests in and through material bodies and spaces, in contexts of the political, social, environmental, and historical.

General Overviews

While a number of edited volumes exist on topics related to race and critical race theory, relatively few focus exclusively on whiteness, and fewer still examine whiteness through an explicitly geographic lens. Delgado and Stefancic 1997 focuses on whiteness through the vantage point of critical race theory, and Frankenberg 1997 approaches the topic through sociology. Back and Solomos 2000 presents a reader that would be a great tool for teaching advanced undergraduate or graduate students. Rasmussen, et al. 2001 gathers together a number of essays oriented around the ways whiteness is socially and materially constructed. More recently, Jung, et al. 2011 examines the relationship between the imperial United States and whiteness, while Twine and Gardener 2013 contains essays critical of social privilege, broadly, including many texts that confront whiteness and white supremacy through a geographic lens.

  • Back, Les, and John Solomos, eds. Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. Routledge Student Readers. London: Routledge, 2000.

    This reader contains excerpts of significant texts that work to theorize race. While the emphasis is on a sociological approach, Theories of Race and Racism brings together scholarship from the humanities and social sciences in an effort to offer conceptual tools to analyze racial inequality.

  • Baldwin, Andrew. “Whiteness and Futurity: Towards a Research Agenda.” Progress in Human Geography 36.2 (2012): 172–187.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132511414603

    Baldwin presents an overview of research on whiteness, arguing that the majority of scholarship orients whiteness in the past. In contrast, he considers the significance of visions of the future of whiteness. Through this approach, he shows how expectations for the future shape current decisions because they are based on the expectation that current racialized structures of inequality will continue.

  • Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic, eds. Critical White Studies: Looking behind the Mirror. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.

    This collection approaches whiteness from a variety of angles, though it is primarily rooted in legal-studies literature. Critical White Studies is somewhat of a foundational text within the field of critical whiteness studies, as one of the earliest collections to explicitly target studies of whiteness within critical race theory.

  • Frankenberg, Ruth, ed. Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

    This collection of essays brings together interdisciplinary scholarship on whiteness, ranging throughout the humanities and social sciences. Collectively, these essays speak to the instability of whiteness, and how its boundaries shift throughout time and space to include or exclude different demographics.

  • Jung, Moon-Kie, João H. Costa Vargas, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, eds. State of White Supremacy: Racism, Governance, and the United States. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.

    This edited collection brings together essays that address the ways that US empire is intimately interconnected with whiteness. The book features chapters examining the historical role of whiteness in shaping US empire, as well as more-current analyses of how the United States remains a white-supremacist, imperialist force at work in the world.

  • Nayak, Anoop. “Critical Whiteness Studies.” Sociology Compass 1.2 (2007): 737–755.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2007.00045.x

    Nayak discusses approaches to critical whiteness studies seeking either to abolish, deconstruct, or rethink whiteness. This piece provides a helpful overview of the field of critical whiteness studies, and how academic and nonacademic challenges to whiteness intersect. Nayak mobilizes a diverse array of literature from the humanities, social sciences, and social theory to address some of the complexity inherent in the interdisciplinarity of critical whiteness studies.

  • Peach, Ceri. “Discovering White Ethnicity and Parachuted Plurality.” Progress in Human Geography 24.4 (2000): 620–626.

    DOI: 10.1191/030913200100189148

    This progress report is particularly useful due to Peach’s inclusion of a wide array of literatures pertaining to whiteness from different disciplines, ranging from the 1950s through the 1990s. He explores scholarship that includes conflict within white groups, such as in Northern Ireland, as well as studies focusing on urban racial and ethnic segregation.

  • Price, Patricia L. “At the Crossroads: Critical Race Theory and Critical Geographies of Race.” Progress in Human Geography 34.2 (2010): 147–174.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132509339005

    In this progress report addressing geography’s use of critical race theory, Price offers a comprehensive review of geographic scholarship on race, arguing that critical geographies of race and critical race theory have much overlap, but that increased interdisciplinary engagement would be of benefit to both. To illustrate, she focuses on the case of Elián González, a young Cuban boy who, in 1999, was at the center of a custody struggle between family members both in Cuba and Miami.

  • Rasmussen, Birgit B., Eric Klinenberg, Irene J. Nexica, and Matt Wray, eds. The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness. Papers presented at a conference held in 1997 at the University of California at Berkeley. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    This edited collection approaches whiteness mindful of the potential for critical whiteness studies to perpetuate white-supremacist practices. The anthology came about following the “Making and Unmaking Whiteness” conference held in Berkeley in 1997. Rasmussen and colleagues bring together essays from key thinkers in diverse fields in critical whiteness studies.

  • Twine, France Winddance, and Bradley Gardener, eds. Geographies of Privilege. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    This edited volume approaches the invisibility of various forms of social privilege, including whiteness. It features essays on such topics as sex work in the United Arab Emirates, the experiences of white migrants, negotiations of wealth and poverty for white welfare recipients, and the intersections of masculine privilege and childhood bullying. The book began originally as a panel at the 2010 American Association of Geographers annual meeting, and contributors span the social sciences.

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