The Monstrous ‘White Theory Boy’: Symbolic Capital, Pedagogy and the Politics of Knowledge

Sarah Burton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


This article presents a critical uncovering of the continued dominance of whiteness and maleness in processes and practices of knowledge formation. Tracking the figure of the ‘white theory boy’ or ‘dead white man’ across experiential accounts of theory, scholarship on canonicity, and pedagogical strategies, the article demonstrates his enduring authority in theoretical knowledge making and dissemination. Where this article moves somewhere different is its suggestion that a space of sympathy be extended to this hegemonic figure. Though the dominance of the ‘white theory boy’ undoubtedly perpetuates inequalities throughout social theoretic thought, it is necessary to locate a new method of tackling such ingrained problems. Though extending sympathy to the ‘white theory boy’ is perhaps initially counter-intuitive, my suggestion is that he does not hold the sort of monolithic power we might first assume. Bringing an intersectional analysis of gender, class, ‘race’ and ethnicity to bear on this figure, creates a space in which a more critical and fine-grained account of the relationship between power, knowledge, and social status can be uncovered. It is through extending this space of sympathy and mutual cooperation to ‘white theory boys’ that the practical and conceptual machinations of their power are further revealed. From here a more thorough dismantling of this power becomes possible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-177
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Knowledge
  • Pedagogy
  • Capital
  • Legitimacy
  • Inequality
  • Theory


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