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Klinkert, Victoria Louisa (2023) Tracing Rhodes: An Ethnography of White Ignorance at Oxford University. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Restricted to Repository staff only until 3 February 2026.


Inspired by the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movement and taking to aide Charles Mills’ (2007) concept of white ignorance, this thesis ethnographically explores how white ignorance manifests itself at the University of Oxford. The central aim of this research is to be both a process and contribution to a more thorough engagement with racial reflexivity in anthropology and therefore it looks closely at the academy. In doing so it aims to fill a gap in the study of whiteness as well as the study of ignorance. Based on my fieldwork and by tracing Rhodes into current day Oxford, I show that in order to analyse the reproduction of white ignorance at the University one has to approach whiteness and its epistemological premises from a myriad of different angles. Namely, one has to account for the political economy, affect and the experiential dimensions of whiteness and its ignorance. By taking the Rhodes statue and the Rhodes scholarship as a starting point, I argue that donations and endowments to the University reproduce white ignorance as they allow donors to whitewash their reputation and conceal their involvement in the logistics of racial capitalism (Moten and Harney 2021; Robinson 2000). Next, by looking at affective material dimensions (Navaro-Yashin 2012) of white ignorance, argue that Oxford’s buildings exude a sense of awe. This sense of awe impedes some to recognise the racialised violence that some of the University’s architecture exudes. Thus, buildings will be conceptualised as imperial debris (Stoler 2013), as an analytic entry point to explore the workings of coloniality and white ignorance within the University. Following this conceptual move, the thesis proceeds to look at the imperial temporality and the aspirational spaces of whiteness that Oxford fosters. Furthermore, it utilises Lefebvre’s (2004) rhythmanalysis to look into how this combination of temporality and space creates a unique rhythm that induces a performative knowledge production with little potential for criticality – contributing to the reproduction of white ignorance at the University of Oxford. Ultimately, I argue that if anthropology does not reflexively engage with whiteness and racism in its own backyard then it too falls into the trap of reproducing white ignorance, hampering its ability to produce transformative anti-racist scholarship.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Ruba Salih and Meera Sabaratnam
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Jun 2023 13:34

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