"What's It Like to Be White?" Representations of Whiteness in Irish and Transnational Literature and Film

photo of Sarah Heinz speaking at lectern in Lane Hall
Sarah Heinz, IRWG Visiting Scholar, Department of English, University of Mannheim (Germany)
Event Date: 
February 12, 2015
Event Time: 
12:00pm to 1:00pm
G240 Lane Hall
Event Tags: 
photo of Sarah Heinz speaking at lectern in Lane Hall

Whiteness Studies and the critical analysis of representations of white people in culture, literature or film have been well-established in American research contexts. European scholarship has been slow in taking up these ideas, and it has even been argued that whiteness is irrelevant to European cultures, literatures and social frameworks. In my research, I have tackled contemporary literature and film from the Republic of Ireland to show that the question of whiteness and the relativity but also the power of ethnic ascriptions such as ‘white’ is equally relevant to Europe today.

In my talk, I will present my theoretical and methodological framework, and I will use literary and filmic examples from Ireland to show that in these texts, whiteness turns out to be an identity position that the often marginalized male protagonists desire. However, a narrative and structural analysis of these examples also shows that the texts as a whole question and de-familiarize this desire. I will then shortly complement the Irish examples with Anglophone texts from Nigeria and New Zealand to outline a more transnational project I am currently working on that applies results and concepts from whiteness studies to postcolonial contexts.

Sarah Heinz has taught English Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Passau and at the University of Mannheim, where she was an Assistant Professor from 2009 to 2014. She received her Ph.D. for a study on postmodern identities in A.S. Byatt’s novels, which was published in 2007, and recently finished her second book-project on Critical Whiteness Studies and intersectionality in Irish literature and film. Her research interests include postcolonial theory, contemporary Irish, English and Anglophone literature and film, identity theory and contemporary drama. She was the principal investigator on three funded projects, and her publications include articles on Irish drama, film and the novel, Victorian poetry, contemporary adaptions of Shakespeare, or on teaching English literature in the university classroom.