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Privilege walk - A path towards understanding norms and stereotypes
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Physics Didactics.
2014 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In higher education, as well as in other human endeavours, norms, values and expectations affect what is being recognized and accepted. The interplay with such cultural systems can have a critical influence on how people behave and succeed (See for example Steele 2010). However, the social rules and norms are primarily a silent knowledge held and enacted, often unconsciously, by the established members of the context. Active intervention can facilitate visualizing, understanding and transforming such belief systems. This workshop will focus on one such intervention activity - Privilege Walk.

The Privilege Walk is inspired by ideas of Peggy McIntosh (1990) regarding privileges, in particular regarding to race, and their importance for the everyday life of individuals.  McIntosh exemplifies this through different statements that are unproblematic for privileged people, but often impossible for those lacking such privileges. This model was developed into an exercise as part of a project to support student diversity at University of California. In this exercise all students are standing side by side at the beginning. Different statements are read, relating to student background as well as different possibilities and opportunities in their everyday situation. Students react upon these statements by moving backwards and forwards. The diversity in the group becomes apparent in a very visual, and often emotional, way as students react in different ways and thereby move apart.

This exercise has spread among teachers and pedagogical developers working with norms, diversity and equal opportunities. The formulation of relevant statements provides the possibility to focus the exercise on different areas, such as race, class age or gender. The directness of the exercise and the active engagement of participants make it a powerful intervention. This provides an effective catalyst for discussion, understanding and transformation.  

This workshop will exemplify how this exercise can be used in different ways by educational developers and teachers. The workshop is arranged according to the following schedule, which will be open for some modification depending on participant interest and questions.

1. A short Privilege Walk exercise focusing on participant experiences of diversity related work at their institutes. This will both introduce the participants to each other, the exercise format and their ideas regarding norms and stereotypes. This part will conclude with a general discussion. (20 min)

2. An introduction about the ideas behind Privilege Walk, development of the exercise and possible uses in higher education. (15 min)

3. A longer Privilege Walk exercise, used in courses about academic integration. The purpose and design of this exercise will be used as a starting point for a discussion about possible uses of such exercises in educational development. (25 min)

4. Participants will work together to draft different possible exercises relating to their own interests. The ideas will be discussed among all participants. (25 min)

5. Brief summary by the workshop leader. (5 min)

Previous workshops about Privilege Walk have, according to evaluations, increased participant understanding about the interplay between norms and the diverse background of participants in a given context. Participants have also been inspired to apply the ideas in many different situations, such as the perceived status of different books in popular culture, different partners possibilities in international research collaborations and the ability of different actors to transform academic culture.


Cheng, J. (2006). WHAT’S RACE GOT TO DO WITH IT? Social Disparities and Student Success. [DVD]. California Newsreel.

McIntosh, P. (1990). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Independent School, 49(2), s. 31-36.

Steele, C.M. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: and other clues to how stereotypes affect us. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Physics with specialization in Physics Education
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-262574OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-262574DiVA: diva2:854327
ICED 2014: Educational development in a changing world
Available from: 2015-09-16 Created: 2015-09-16 Last updated: 2015-09-16

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