Seeing oneself seeing oneself: White nihilism in ethnography and theory

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This essay dwells on the intersection of three historical contemporaries: (1) American anthropology's 'reflexive turn'; (2) the rise of Michel Foucault's motif of 'the gaze' within anthropology; and (3) the spread of the aesthetics of 'white nihilism.' The intersection materializes in the visual trope of self-reflexivity. White nihilism, according to one account, is a self-loathing kind of reflexive gaze, preemptive of criticism and desirous of self-possession. The paper argues that Foucault's idea of the panoptic gaze had a similar effect on anthropological self-reflexivity. The essay contrasts the American reception of Foucault with the case of Francophone anthropology - including 'the Other Foucault' - in which self-reflexivity involves self-loss or self-division.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)470-488
Number of pages19
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2006


  • Conspiracy theory
  • Nihilism
  • Self-reflexive gaze
  • Whiteness


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