Wan-Chuan Kao
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Introduction
Operational whiteness
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The introduction argues that contemporary critical whiteness studies does not afford premodern whiteness a conceptual space to exist. And within medieval studies, scholarship has continued to treat whiteness as primarily a phenomenon of skin colour and racialisation. But while whiteness participates crucially in the history of racialisation in the late medieval West, it does not denote or connote skin tone alone. Deploying diverse methodologies, this book considers premodern whiteness as operations of fragility, precarity and racialicity across bodily and nonsomatic figurations; it asks how whiteness as a trope produces but yet delimits a range of medieval ideological regimes. This project contends that the ‘before’ of whiteness, presupposing essence and teleology, is less a retro-futuristic temporisation – one that simultaneously looks backward and faces forward – than a discursive figuration of how white becomes whiteness. Fragility delineates the limits of ruling ideologies in performances of mourning as self-defence against perceived threats to subjectivity and desire; precarity registers the ruptures within normative values by foregrounding the unmarked vulnerability of the body politic and the violence of cultural aestheticisation; and racialicity attends to the politics of recognition and the technologies of enfleshment at the systemic edge of life and nonlife, of periodisation and of racial embodiment. If whiteness has hardened into an identity politics defined by skin tone alone, this book argues that it has not always been so. Operations of whiteness may generate differences that fabricate, structure and connect the social world, but these operative differences of whiteness are never transparent, stable or permanent.

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