Whiteness studies are trans-disciplinary, but here the focus is principally on sociology and social history. Firstly, I identify, elucidate and synthesize the major ways in which whiteness in this literature has hitherto been problematized, to provide a sociological view of the multidisciplinary work so far. Five interpretations are identified; whiteness as absence, as content, as a set of norms, as resources and as a contingent hierarchy. Secondly, I make some proposals regarding the whiteness problematic’s degree of pertinence to European settings, with a brief discussion of the Irish case. Finally, I argue that whiteness is useful if conceptualized in a way that sets it within the parameters of studies of racism.