The Racialised Somatic Norm and the Senior Civil Service

Puwar, Nirmal. 2001. The Racialised Somatic Norm and the Senior Civil Service. Sociology, 35(3), pp. 651-670. ISSN 14698684 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

One of the central ways in which institutional racism is perpetuated is through the designation of the somatic norm. However, although the classed and gendered nature of the somatic norm underlying somataphobic representations of the universal `individual' have been both theoretically and substantially explored, the racial character of this embodied being has received scant attention. This paper introduces race to the wider debates on the embodied nature of the political `individual', before analysing the specific ways in which an institution that is deemed to be at the absolute apex of disembodied, neutral professionalism - the British senior civil service - is naturalised as the domain for white men. The somatic norm underlying the representation of the impartial senior civil service is brought to the fore in this paper by discussing the location of black senior civil servants, whose presence helps us to highlight the synchronic relationship between racialised bodies and elite spaces in the body politic. These `Space Invaders' disturb the racialised nature of these spaces whilst at the same time adhering to the assimilative pressure of the somatic norm. An engagement with the interview accounts of black senior civil servants allows us to grasp some idea of what it is like for them to coexist in a place that is built on a `racial contract' which has demarcated spaces in accordance with racialised corporealities. As matter out of place these `different' bodies generate disorientation, undergo the burden of invisibility and abide by the racialised and classed informal rules of behaviour, particularly those of the legitimate language. All of which problematises the notion of `difference' in organisations as entailing much more than the mere existence of `different' bodies, on the basis of race or gender.

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body, class, embodiment, institutional racism, senior civil service, somatic norm, space invaders

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1 August 2001Published

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Date Deposited:

28 May 2009 10:44

Last Modified:

07 Jul 2017 12:17

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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