Shooting the elephant in the (prayer) room: Politics of moods, racial hauntologies and idiomatic diffraction

Kirsten Hvenegård-Lassen, Dorthe Staunæs

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“The elephant in the room” is an idiom that summarises a particular way of handling social and cultural problems. Elephants in rooms are social taboos that are affectively charged: even though everybody knows the elephant is there, they ignore it. In this paper, we grapple with disappearance acts related to race and racialisation in a white-dominated Danish context, the university. Race is, we argue, simultaneously there and not there: a ghostly matter that haunts organisational policies and practices which are preoccupied with governing diversity. Using a debate over ‘prayer rooms’ in educational institutions, we aim at building a methodology that is sensitive to the issues of race and racialisation in Northern European contexts, which are dominated by a particular kind of “innocent” whiteness (Wekker, 2016). We turn to, but also twist, the methodology of diffraction, because diffraction concerns things which disappear but continue to haunt. We use the idiom “the elephant in the room” and the position of elephants in colonial archives as our diffractive devices in order to foreground race and racialisation. Therefore, we name this methodology idiomatic diffraction. This twist towards the idiom is helpful in investigating how, more precisely, racial relations materialise in and haunt affectively both in universities and in Denmark as a whole.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHigher Education Hauntologies : Living with Ghosts for a Justice-to-come
EditorsVivienne Bozalek, Michalinos Zembylas, Siddique Motala, Dorothee Hölscher
Number of pages13
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Publication date13 Apr 2021
ISBN (Print)9780367527846
ISBN (Electronic)9781000373202
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2021

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