Research on 'race' and racism has proliferated in the human sciences over the last few years so that, although there are lacunae in some disciplines, some areas and in the work of some researchers, there is an excellent corpus of research scholarship in this field. Indeed, research in this field has been published for more than eighty years demonstrating the sustained (although changing) importance of these issues in some societies. As would be expected when there is a burgeoning of research in any area, the stories told in the literature are far from unitary. At the very least, the questions that preoccupy researchers shift over time. It is not surprising, for example, that in the post-Second World War years that research on 'race' and racism tried to understand how ordinary people could be complicit in genocide. Classic studies such as The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al. 1939), the Minimal Group Paradigm (Tajfel et al. 1971) and Obedience to Authority (Milgram 1974) or segregation among US miners (Minard 1952) were all attempts to throw light on such issues. As classic studies, all have been reinterpreted from the vantage of later theoretical and epistemological understandings (e.g. Billig 2002; Milner 1983; Wetherell and Potter 1992).
As the wealth of work available has accumulated, the theoretical, epistemological and methodological approaches taken have also proliferated. Recent research on 'race' and racism has focused mostly on everyday instances of racism, rather than gross examples of genocide. Qualitative research has gained legitimacy in many disciplines and much of this work pays close attention to what people say and write on the understanding that, since meanings are constructed in language, this should be the primary site for understanding social interactions (Potter and Wetherell 1987). This 'turn to language' has influenced all forms of qualitative methodology and generated many debates about epistemology. The resulting methods have produced much insightful and exciting work. However, the application of these methods to research on racism raises a number of tricky issues. For example, are there, as Stephen Frosh et al. (2001) and Hollway and Jefferson (2000) argue, important 'things that can't be said' because the emotions they arouse lead them to be pushed into the unconscious? If so, what are the implications for our understanding of accounts that confirm or deny experiences of racism.