Representations of racial difference and 'white anxiety' in the USA and UK: the 1992 US and 1997 UK election campaigns


Vautier, Elaine 2005. Representations of racial difference and 'white anxiety' in the USA and UK: the 1992 US and 1997 UK election campaigns. Thesis University of East London
AuthorsVautier, Elaine

This thesis examines the construction of White anxiety through an analysis of discursive
strategies used to marshal racialised fears and resentments within the context of specific political
cultures. Here, White anxiety is defined as the imagined threats and displacements felt in
response to the presence of those identified as ethnically or racially different, and in particular
fears of loss over resources assumed to be scarce. I analyse the way political discourses in the
USA and the UK deploy or negotiate such white anxiety in the post-war period with specific case
studies focussed on the 1992 US and 1997 UK election campaigns.
The topic of 'race' in contemporary politics has proved to be a potent and difficult issue for
politicians. On the one hand appeals to 'race' and racialised resentments continue to be assumed
as vote winners. On the other hand, in liberal democracies such as the US and the UK, such appeals
attract accusations of 'playing the race card' to signify improper politics. These accusations
prompt contrasting political responses and media participation in each country. The comparative
analysis indicates the importance of specific political cultures in the construction and deployment
of White anxieties grounded in assumptions of popular racisms. What is common to both contexts
is that politicians with the help of the media rely upon and tacitly collude with White racialised
resentments keeping notions of immutable racial differences in play. This is done through appeals
that have distinct historical and contingent resonances.
I have identified three narrative frames that have been persistently deployed, with contingent
modifications, in order to marshal and construct White anxieties within each political culture.
In Britain immigration numbers linked to racial harmony has been an enduring theme, supplemented
by a second narrative frame of nation and belonging. In the US the dominant theme is tax
resentments linked to Affirmative Action, with a second frame of national belonging becoming
increasingly important. I show how the development of these historically and culturally specific
narrative frames have retained validity and resonance even as they have been modified for new

Keywordspolitical culture; election campaigns; racism
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Deposited09 May 2011
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This thesis supplied via ROAR to UEL-registered users is protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights, and duplication of any part of the material is not permitted, except for your personal use for the purposes of non-commercial research and private study in electronic or print form. You must obtain permission from the copyright-holder for any other use. Electronic or print copies may not be offered, for sale or otherwise, to anyone. No quotation from the thesis may be published without proper acknowledgement.

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