On Being Included

Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life

On Being Included

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 3 illustrations Published: March 2012

Author: Sara Ahmed

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Pedagogy and Higher Education, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

What does diversity do? What are we doing when we use the language of diversity? Sara Ahmed offers an account of the diversity world based on interviews with diversity practitioners in higher education, as well as her own experience of doing diversity work. Diversity is an ordinary, even unremarkable, feature of institutional life. Yet diversity practitioners often experience institutions as resistant to their work, as captured through their use of the metaphor of the "brick wall." On Being Included offers an explanation of this apparent paradox. It explores the gap between symbolic commitments to diversity and the experience of those who embody diversity. Commitments to diversity are understood as "non-performatives" that do not bring about what they name. The book provides an account of institutional whiteness and shows how racism can be obscured by the institutionalization of diversity. Diversity is used as evidence that institutions do not have a problem with racism. On Being Included offers a critique of what happens when diversity is offered as a solution. It also shows how diversity workers generate knowledge of institutions in attempting to transform them.


“Ahmed develops and excellent study for those wishing to view the multiple realities of diversity. Highly recommended. General readers, undergraduate students, graduate students, and professionals.” — P. Kriese, Choice

“Ahmed’s book is not a how-to guide to ‘what works.’ But On Being Included would be an excellent choice for a faculty-staff reading group about social justice in the academy, because Ahmed provides a rich resource for serious rethinking: ‘My aim is not to suggest that we should stop doing diversity, but that we need to keep asking what we are doing.’” — Meryl Altman, Academe

“Drawing from interviews and informal conversations with higher education diversity practitioners across the United Kingdom and Australia, scholar Sara Ahmed has crafted a keen meditation on the meaning of diversity in higher education and its implications for inclusion.... Focusing on what practitioners can learn about institutions as they work to transform them, her book will be of interest to anyone seeking to promote greater inclusion at their institution.” — On Campus with Women

“Regardless of positionality and lived experiences, this text is engaging both intellectually and emotionally. Ahmed’s unflinching candor compels reflection and tough (hopefully productive) conversations far more effectively than a conventional ‘diversity document’.  This is a text that moves to confront and change the status quo.” — Corin de Freitas and Alex Pysklywec, Environment and Planning D

“Despite having read widely within the ?eld of diversity and higher education, it is rare for a book to so powerfully call to mind my own identities as did this one.  . . . This work is most appropriate for an educational anthropology course or unit focused on applied work within higher education. . . . It would also be useful for researchers looking for a new theoretical approach to how discourse and documents perform within institutions or, more provocatively, how they fail to do so.” — Lauren Miller Griffith, Anthropology & Education Quarterly

On Being Included is one of those books that took over my life. It seemed like, for a while, I inserted this text into just about every conversation I had. ‘Oh, that’s similar to what Sara Ahmed talks about when she says … ‘ Maybe it’s because I want people to associate me with this brilliant author!  It’s also partially because this book is really smart about dealing with the ways that terms–specifically, diversity–are taken up within the institution (and she does a neat job of thinking through what institution means) and used to obscure particular kinds of work.” — Erin Frost, Theorizing Feminist Apparency blog

“[T]he book links deeply theoretical questioning to personal experience, empirical findings in interviews, informal discussions and engaged participant observation. It provides the reader with many insights, some created within different varieties of collective intellectual labor that are referred to as discussions in a seminar, meeting or informal talk, that nourish the quest for reading that is simultaneously compelling and delightful. In its combination of theory and practice, the book offers food for thought to theorists and practitioners alike.” — Anitta Kynsilehto, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“What is most striking about Ahmed’s work is her detailed analysis of the various paradoxes that result when diversity workers attempt to transform institutions that resist the very transformations diversity workers are hired to put into effect.”  — Tyson E. Lewis, Signs

On Being Included is well structured and presented, and at 187 pages of text it is substantial and scholarly without being excessive… the book remains accessible.  It’s actually a good read.” — Samira Farhoud, CAUT Bulletin

On Being Included does an excellent job of bringing to life, in highly perceptive ways, the experience of doing diversity work. As ethnography, its strength indeed may lie in bracketing other times and places. However, the resonance with other documented experiences in Britain and Australia contributes to the book’s value in offering not just a picture of diversity politics but a vivid account of the persistent features of contemporary organisational life when faced with projects seeking change.” — Davina Cooper, British Journal of Educational Studies

“For those of us interested in diversity work, Ahmed’s On Being Included provides a novel way of thinking about diversity. In her readings of institutional documents interwoven with the voices of diversity workers, Ahmed cautions us to think about diversity as a tool deployed to further crystallize institutionally sanctioned racist practices that recede to the background of everyday life.”   — Andres Castro Samayoa, Somatechnics

“[A] unique account of diversity as an institutional practice and also of what people do and feel when they do not quite fit the norms of an institution or are ‘out of place.’ Ahmed captures the experience of diversity in liberal  institutions through the image of a coming up against a brick wall and an important part of this book is the ‘physical and emotional’ labour of confronting that wall.” — Karim Murji, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Ahmed’s interviews, her personal connection to the subject matter (her presence is part of how her institution does diversity (p. 153), and she has done ‘diversity work' there as well), and her linking of empirical and theoretical insights make this a deeply engaging read.” — Sonia Lawrence, Jotwell

“The strength of the argument here is the compelling empirical data that shows both the necessity and the possibilities of accounting for how diversity work gets stuck, which forcefully complements her earlier conceptualization.” — Xin Liu, NORA

“This book offers a grounded and open exploration of what it means to ‘do’ diversity, to ‘be’ diverse. It challenges the reader, both in style and in content, to reconsider relations of power that stick to the multiple practices, meanings, and understandings of diversity, and to reconsider how we engage, reproduce, and disrupt these relations.” — Juliane Collard and Carolyn Prouse, Gender, Place & Culture

“A key finding in Ahmed’s rich analysis of race relations is how diversity policies can become a mechanism for preserving whiteness. . . . Above all, Ahmed’s corpus of work on race and cultural studies continues to remind us that race is a ‘sticky sign’. . . . The wonder of Ahmed’s book is that it allows us insight into some of the more ephemeral ways whiteness, privilege and institutional discrimination come to operate as normative.” — Anoop Nayak, British Journal of Sociology of Education

"Ahmed gives some arresting acounts of the ways that the uproar often surrouding the accusation or implied accusation of racism can reinforce whiteness. . . . This is a timely and engaging book ." — Sophie Rudolph, Gender and Education

"On Being Included is a high level discussion of how and why universities struggle to overcome the constraints of their institutional habitus. Perhaps because of my own complicities, this book challenged me at a personal level. It is an insightful, rigorously theoretical, and grounded conversation about racism and diversity within higher learning and a book for anyone who believes we can do better." — Joe Corrigan, Alberta Journal of Educational Research

"On Being Included is an insightful, challenging, and well-written text. Teachers and administrators who are interested in diversity should certainly take time with Ahmed’s work, as should anyone interested in assessing
the larger role of institutional context in higher education." — Stephen Okey, Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religon

"This book is an exploration of how the aspiration to institutionalize practices of inclusion and anti-racism might reproduce some of the existing patterns of inequality instead. . . . Although it is almost a decade old, On Being Included offers a fresh and detailed ethnographic take on how power operates in institutional settings." — Troy Schaum, The Architect's Newspaper

"Just when you think everything that could possibly be said about diversity in higher education has been said, Sara Ahmed comes along with this startlingly original, deeply engaging ethnography of diversity work. On Being Included is an insightful, smart reflection on the embodied, profoundly political phenomenology of doing and performing diversity in predominantly white institutions. As Ahmed queers even the most mundane formulations of diversity, she creates one eureka moment after another. I could not put this book down. It is a must-read for everyone committed to antiracist, feminist work as key to institutional transformation in higher education." — Chandra Talpade Mohanty, author of Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity

"Sara Ahmed's sensitive and respectful analysis of the complexities faced by diversity workers in higher education institutions arrives at a moment when we urgently need ways to rethink institutional dynamics and the animating effects of policy regimes and processes. This is a vital book: vital as a compass guiding the eye, heart, and mind to the knowledge that can emerge from the labor of institutional transformation, and vital in the sense of being life-giving to those involved in the process." — Gail Lewis, coauthor of Citizenship: Personal Lives and Social Policy

"There are no other books of this caliber examining the institutional culture of diversity in higher education. Sara Ahmed not only offers a rigorous empirical study of how diversity operates in the real world; she also develops a brilliant theoretical framework exploring the affective reproduction of inequality. At the same time, as a black feminist, she draws on her own embodiment of difference and experience as a diversity practitioner." — Heidi Safia Mirza, author of Race, Gender and Educational Desire: Why Black Women Succeed and Fail


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sara Ahmed is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her books include The Cultural Politics of Emotion; Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality; and Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. On Arrival 1

1. Institutional Life 19

2. The Language of Diversity 51

3. Equality and Performance Culture 83

4. Commitment as a Non-performative 113

5. Speaking about Racism 141

Conclusion. A Phenomenological Practice 173

Notes 191

References 221

Index 235
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Sara Ahmed is the recipient of the 2017 Kessler Award, presented by CLAGS

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5236-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5221-1
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