Research Brief: Whiteness as Futurity

Citation: Shahjahan, R.A., & Edwards, K.T. (2021) Whiteness as futurity and globalization of higher education. Higher Education

In our forthcoming conceptual essay (Shahjahan & Edwards, 2021), we argue that Whiteness as futurity colonizes (or orients) global subjects’ (nation-states’, policy makers’, institutions’, and individuals’) imaginaries and reinforces the asymmetrical movements, networks, and untethered economies underpinning global HE. We highlight how Whiteness governs the future through three distinct pathways: a) influencing future aspirations, b) creating conditions that make it economically and culturally harmful to not invest or continue the investment in Whiteness, and c) remaining malleable enough to disguise or superimpose itself by appearing flexible to local conditions. The three characteristics detailed below do not emerge procedurally, but instead symbiotically, able to exist independently while also catalyzing the potency of one another.  

Whiteness as Producer and Foreclosure of Aspirations

Challenging “Whitenesses and their hold on racist social imaginaries” requires attention to how White identity invokes the future and shapes geographies (Baldwin, 2012, p. 172).  Since a global subjectivity provides access to global currency, locales with less resources endure pressure to pursue aspirations that normalize Whiteness, and thus protect Whiteness’s dominance into the future. The pervasiveness of English language learning exemplifies normalized White aspirations shaped by global asymmetries. Furthermore, White nations’ manipulation of global educational structures positions them as the future for which the rest of the world must aspire. When non-White nations explicitly adapt their educational agendas in response to global trends, they implicitly participate in the spread of White imaginations and aspirations because, “performance is an orientation towards the future, insofar as the action is also the expression of a wish or intention” (Ahmed, 2007, p. 153).

Whiteness as Investment

We recognize the globalization of HE as a process of White investment expansion, which enhances predictive capacity. Future-oriented “practices” and “anticipatory logics” make White education’s dominance on the global landscape possible. Predicting one’s future value (e.g., knowledge skills and abilities) (seemingly) secures one’s “future [which] works as a resource in the geographic expression of Whitenesses” (Baldwin, 2012, p. 175). For instance, students in the Global South ‘hoping’ to access geopolitical centers to improve employment opportunities find future security particularly relevant (Caluya et al., 2011; Sidhu & Ishikawa, 2020; Winberg & Winberg, 2017). Students in the Global North simultaneously experience an expansion of their domestic investment, solidifying global privilege and future security. For instance, non-White HEIs highly prize professionals who possess degrees from White HEIs and/or can teach/communicate in English (Marginson & Wende, 2007).  White credentials travel easily around the world. Investment in Whiteness for non-White locales mirrors the volatility of the stock market. The market (Whiteness) always wins, even while individual investors lose. 

Whiteness as Malleable

Whiteness engenders non-White aspiration and investment because it is malleable and thus appears useful throughout a variety of contexts.  An orientation to Whiteness is appealing because it places certain objects and resources “within reach” (Ahmed, 2007, p. 152). However in order to function as an aspiration worthy of investment, Whiteness must also appear reachable. For example, while Anglo-American Whiteness is the ‘Whitest’ Whiteness and thus the most valuable, ‘Japanese Whiteness’ may appear more “in reach,” and therefore a worthy investment for Southeast Asian subjects (Sidhu & Ishikawa, 2020). While the ways in which Whiteness becomes entrenched may vary across geography, each iteration supports “racialized hierarchies” (Christian, 2019, p. 180), securing White futures. Racialized hierarchies (re)produce at the micro (e.g., individual students’ English language acquisition), meso (e.g., introduction of liberal education to institutional curricula), and macro (e.g., GURs) levels. Since racialized interactions are constantly negotiated, the production and maintenance of racial hierarchies need to respond to local characteristics.

Concluding remarks

Drawing on this framework, in our forthcoming article, we provide a critical race temporal account of globalization of HE by critically examining two contemporary global HE trends, namely: a) the global diffusion of liberal education, and b) the growing use of global university rankings (GURs). We focus on these two current trends because they share many similar hallmarks in their cultural transmission driven by globalization and bounded by Whiteness. Yet, they are different as the former is about curricula, and the latter is focused on metrics and policy. We conclude suggesting that educators consider seriously the insights of Whiteness studies and futurity in reconceptualizing globalization of HE. 


Ahmed, S. (2007). A phenomenology of Whiteness. Feminist Theory, 8(2), 149–168.

Baldwin, A. (2012). Whiteness and futurity: Towards a research agenda. Progress in Human Geography, 36(2), 172–187.  

Caluya, G., Probyn, E., and Vyes, S. (2011). ‘Affective eduscapes’: the case of Indian students

within Australian international HE. Cambridge Journal of Education 41 (1), 85-99.

Christian, M. (2019). A global critical race and racism framework: Racial entanglements and deep and malleable Whiteness. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 5(2), 169–185.  

Marginson S. & Wende, M. (2007). The new global landscape of nations and institutions. Working paper, OECD.

Shahjahan, R.A. & Edwards, K. (2021). Whiteness as futurity and globalization of higher education. Higher Education

Sidhu, R., & Ishikawa, M. (2020). Destined for Asia: hospitality and emotions in international student mobilities. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 1-19.

Winberg, S., and C. Winberg. 2017. “Using a Social Justice Approach to Decolonize an Engineering Curriculum.” In 2017 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 248–254. New York City: IEEE. doi:10.1109/EDUCON.2017.7942855

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