Posted on January 5, 2011

Prosthetic White Hyper-Masculinities and ‘Disaster Education’

John Preston, Sage Research Methods Online, August 23, 2010

John Preston, University of East London, UK, [email protected]


Critiques of Whiteness Studies paradoxically focus on embodiment whether this is whiteness as an embodied identity that has realist properties or the inscription of labouring bodies through a process of racialization. In this article I consider the ways in which whiteness may be best understood as a prosthetic that can situationally be attached/detached from white bodies. Paradoxically, this flexibility of whiteness increases white people’s powers of symbolic and material control over environments and the bodies of people of colour. In earlier work I have considered prosthetic whiteness to be mostly associated with ruling class masculinities. However, in certain contexts this ruling class discourse may become generalized. To examine how situationally this might be the case I examine survivalist and preparedness literature (‘disaster education’) that considers the racialized other to be embodied, mindless, bodies (‘zombies’) and surviving whites to be disembodied, primal, heroic agents. Using popular culture, public information films and the recent preparedness information in the UK on ‘swine flu’ I show how people of colour are positioned as non-agentic, static and (most significantly) as immobile and risky bodies as opposed to the portrayal of ‘white’ subjects in preparedness as mobile and able subjects whose genetic survival is at stake.

[The full text of this article can be downloaded as a PDF file here. There is a charge. The table of contents for the September issue of Ethnicities, which is devoted entirely to “whiteness studies,” is here.]