Whitenes and the General Will: Diversity Work as Willful Work

Ahmed, Sara. 2012. Whitenes and the General Will: Diversity Work as Willful Work. philoSOPHIA, 2(1), pp. 1-20. ISSN 2155-0891 [Article]

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In this essay I explore whiteness in relation to the general will. My starting point is that the idea of “the general will” offers us a vocabulary for thinking through the materiality of race. This essay takes up the theme of the materiality of race by thinking of whiteness in relation to the will. There are clearly risks in such an undertaking: after all, the idea of whiteness as willed might seem to imply that whiteness is volitional: and can be simply “willed away.”1 I want to suggest that if whiteness is resistant to will, as that which cannot be simply willed away, then whiteness can also be understood as willed: in other words, what cannot be willed away is a willing way. Edward Said’s definition of Orientalism as “willed human work,” which as a definition has yet to be rigorously understood, could be considered an important precedent to my argument (1978, 140). The suggestion is not simply that the Orient is brought into existence, or made to exist over time, but that the very labor of creating the Orient, the land of the stranger, the land far away, is what establishes a direction. Once the Orient has come to exist, there is a willing of its existence; to keep going that way is to keep that way going. Willed work is work that in willing that way creates a way that can be willed. It is not as the old English cliché says—where there’s a will there’s a way—but rather to will is to way. I think it is useful to think of whiteness in this way, as a willing way, which is of course only one way of thinking about whiteness.

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Research Office > REF2014
Media, Communications and Cultural Studies



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Date Deposited:

12 Jul 2013 08:26

Last Modified:

27 Feb 2019 12:50

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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