How appropriate is it to characterise Western universities as institutionally racist?

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


The Macpherson Report in 1999 claimed that public organisations, including universities, were characterised by institutional racism. This paper critically examines the concept of institutional racism before using it as a sensitising concept to investigate ethnographically in one university in the UK over a ten-year period. While I was initially sceptical of the analytical utility of the concept of institutional racism, since it seemed to gloss over important conceptual distinctions, the concept ultimately proved revealing in accounting for significant continuities in the approach of universities, including Midshire, to race equality. Throughout the period under discussion, there was a reluctance to identify race equality as a priority and to take corresponding action because of what has been called "the sheer weight of whiteness" (Back 2004, 1). A comparison of Midshire University with Midshire Police reinforced this perception. While it identified contrasts in the occupational cultures of the two organisations, at the same time it pointed to surprising parallels in their approaches to race equality, which stemmed from a taken for granted white norm. Despite this, the concept of institutional racism as defined in the Macpherson report and employed in the Parekhh report fails to capture significant differences between public organisations and changes over time. The author concludes that universities are not appropriately characterised as institutionally racist and are more appropriately conceptualised as pervaded by a white norm
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe International Journal of Interdisciplinary Global Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2013


  • Institutional racism
  • higher education
  • widening participation
  • equality and diversity


Dive into the research topics of 'How appropriate is it to characterise Western universities as institutionally racist?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this