The aim of this paper is to meet a repeated challenge that comes from within postcolonial writing: to turn postcolonial theory and strategies ‘inward’, and to examine our postcoloniality. Specifically I use social class to interrogate the idea of western privilege in a postcolonial context, examining whether postcolonialism can enable the politics of class to intersect with the politics of ‘Otherness’ in such a way to open up ethnography to a more ethical geographical praxis. The paper first presents a genealogy of the figure of the privileged western researcher, drawing attention to the historical contingency within subsequent issues of positionality in the South. Taking this figure, the discussion is then guided by two ‘heteros’ of postcolonial writing – heterogeneity and heterotemporality – to disrupt the assumption of historical contingency. I use my own class history as a heterotemporality to insist on a more heterogeneous conceptualisation of western postcoloniality that accounts for the varied experiences of the British working classes. The paper closes with the crucial question of what this largely theoretical work might offer the empirical business of ethnography in (especially) poor areas of the South, asking explicitly: can class, like gender and ethnicity, qualify western privilege in a way that reduces researcher–researched power imbalance? The main argument made is that geography's imperial past is an elite historiography that cannot draw the contours of western researcher relations with postcolonial ‘Others’. Consequently, I propose social class as an aspect of subjectivity that moves hyper self-reflexivity towards a more ethical praxis across difference.