Congratulations! 2015-16 Defended Dissertations

Congratulations to all the YCAR graduate associates who defended their dissertations in 2015-16!


Nadia Z. HasanNadia, Hasan
Department of Political Science
Supervisor: Kamala Kempadoo

Unscripting Piety: Muslim Women, Pakistani Nationalism, and Islamic Feminism

Abstract: This dissertation analyzes Muslim women’s processes of pious subject formation and the intersection of these processes with discourses of Pakistani nationalism and Islamic feminism. Drawing primarily on interviews and participatory observations with Pakistani women in Karachi, Islamabad, and Mississauga associated with two Sunni Muslim groups, Al-Huda International and the Jamaat-e-Islami, I examine how women comprehend and inhabit their piety in and through the spiritual, social, and political milieu of their everyday lives. I argue that taking up piety while understanding the spiritual as epistemological reveals contradictory and relational dimensions of Muslim women’s subjectivities, including complicities with structures of power and relationships with the secular. By taking up religiosity as a way of knowing, this dissertation intervenes in the normative secularity of knowledge production about Muslim women that renders the epistemic dimension of their pious subjectivities unintelligible.

To explicate what analytical openings are enabled by taking up the spiritual as epistemological, I look at how the women I conducted research with conceptualize their piety and how their Islamic discourse coalesces, contradicts and co-exists with dominant discourses of Islam, religio-nationalism, and universal rights-based feminism. I begin with an exploration of the spaces created for Muslim women through Al-Huda and the Jamaat and what these spaces meant to the women I met. I juxtapose my respondents’ Islamic praxis with a discourse analysis of Pakistani religio-nationalism and rights-based Islamic feminism that also stake a claim on defining the relationship between women and Islam. These discursive structures of nationalism and feminism anchor analyses of Muslim women’s piety in secular epistemologies that render practices such as veiling or the qawwam (authoritative status) of men, for example, in secular terms. Focusing on how the women I interviewed conceptualize qawwam, I elucidate the paradoxical processes by which they implement an ostensible gendered hierarchy, often in face of resistant men, in their everyday lives. I then turn to how their piety is complicit with structures of power by examining how the focus on scripture in their literalist Islamic praxis secures a rational subject of piety.

Bio: Nadia Z. Hasan completed her PhD in Political Science in 2015.  Her work examines questions of religion, gender, epistemology, feminism and nationalism in relation to Pakistani women in Pakistan and the diaspora.  She teaches courses in Social Sciences and Humanities on topics in South Asian Studies, gender and feminism and is the Research Outreach Officer at YCAR.  Her current research builds on her dissertation to examine how Muslim women in Canada participate in transnational discourses of piety and what this means for how they inhabit Canadian subjecthoods.


Anindo HazraAnindo Hazra
Department of English
Supervisor: Arun Prabha Mukherjee

A Noble Mansion For All?: The Production of Difference in Selected Works by Mahesh Dattani and R. Raj Rao

Abstract: This dissertation reads selected works of two queer Indian writers, Mahesh Dattani and R. Raj Rao, as sites of the production of difference in contemporary, fin-de-millénaire India. The literary analysis in this project tracks the particular texture of the selected primary texts. It follows the particular weave of what stories are being told, and how they are being told, which creates unique patterns of difference, providing the means for critical readings of diversity and difference in contemporary India. Close readings of the primary texts reveal artful, significant interventions in two intersecting discursive fields: namely, nationalism and sexualities. Moreover, the art-work of the texts reveals how the “idea of India” as a model of “unity-indiversity” is by no means politically or ideologically neutral; specifically, the texts show how it is conceptually inadequate for understanding, let alone accommodating, any radical approaches to difference, especially the kind manifested in queerness. While the ramifications of Indian

national identity animate one line of enquiry, those of dissident sexualities and gender energize the other, drawing into both lines region-specific questions and enquiries into identity- and subject-formation at large. The “queer India” crystallizing in the works of Dattani and Rao comes to signal a heterogeneity, complicating stabilized notions of identity (the self-same) and difference (extraneous other/s), all the while interrogating the ground on which that same term rests. Both writers’ works defer stable assumptions of what it means to be “queer” and what it means to be “Indian.” This project examines these forms of deferral as productions of differences in which the irreducibility of, but also radical unsettled interconnections between, difference is theorized.

Bio: Anindo Hazra completed his PhD at the Department of English in York University in 2015. His dissertation analyses selected works of two contemporary queer Indian writers: Mahesh Dattani and R. Raj Rao. As a graduate student, his interests cohered around issues of gender and sexuality and the novel blending of postcolonial and queer theories. Anindo’s current research builds on his dissertation-work and aims to extend the critical discourse on queer Indian subjectivities and the production of difference, tracing the shifting contours of “queer India” in the contemporary period. He has taught widely in the field of South Asian studies, most recently as a full-year Course Director, in the departments of English, DLLL, and Social Sciences at York University.


Abhar Rukh HusainHusain
Graduate Program in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies
Supervisor: Tania Das Gupta

Spirited women tell their stories: A study of Bangladeshi female temporary migration to the Middle East

Abstract: Abhar Rukh Husain’s dissertation draws on the stories of 34 Bangladeshi women who went to seven Middle Eastern countries, including United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon and Jordan, as temporary workers during 1995-2010. She interrogates their interactions with migration brokers and employers and offers a complex understanding of their migration journey. Abhar’s understanding adds to the structural aspect of Bangladeshi women’s migration journey by highlighting the social context of rural Bangladesh from where they migrate. She argues a nuanced view of these women’s engagement with migration brokers from their social and familial circles and their conduct with their employers in Middle East requires a critical consideration of Bangladeshi rural realities. In short, Abhar’s thesis informs Bangladeshi women’s situation with brokers and employers in a nuanced manner and complicates dominant ways of understanding their migration journey.

 Bio: Abhar Rukh Husain has a PhD in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies from York University. Previously, she worked as an assistant professor in the department of Economics, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. She is interested in a broad range of issues, including but not limited to contemporary geo-politics, immigration policy, labour market and the Middle East.


Doris Sung
Department of Humanities
Supervisor: Joan Judge

Redefining Female Talent: Chinese Women Artists in the National and Global Art Worlds, 1900s – 1970s

Abstract:  This study examines the art practices of three generations of Chinese women who were active between the 1900s and the 1970s. Its conceptual focus is on the reassessment of female talent and virtue, a moralized dichotomy that had been used to frame women’s social practices and cultural production for centuries in China. The study opens in the period when female poetic practice was harshly vilified by reformists of the late Qing era (1890s-1911). It questions why women’s art production was not directly condemned in this period and examines how women’s increasingly public displays of artistic talent were legitimized through the invocation of long-standing familial norms, the official sanction of new educational practices, and the formulation of various nationalist agendas. Most importantly, this study demonstrates how women artists joined female writers, educators, and political figures in redefining gender possibilities in the early Republican period.

Women artists discussed in this study practiced both Chinese-style and Western-style art. I discuss their participation in several different public contexts, including art education, exhibitions, art societies, and philanthropic organizations. Representatives of the first generation, Wu Xingfen (1853-1930) and Jin Taotao (1884-1939), followed and advanced the artistic legacy of their predecessors, the women of the boudoir (guixiu), while at the same time expanding the paradigm of traditional women’s art practices. In addition to their emerging visibility in the local art world, they also exhibited works in international expositions, engaged with foreign concessions, and traveled abroad. Members of the Chinese Women’s Society of Calligraphy and Painting (Zhongguo nüzi shuhuahui) who represent the second generation, embraced new institutional possibilities by studying, teaching, and forming a collective to reaffirm women’s position in the traditional-style art milieu.  Pan Yuliang (1895-1977) and her cohort of Western-style artists who formed the third generation, contributed to modern art reform in China in the first decades of the twentieth century. Pan’s distinct life trajectory and subsequent career in Paris illuminate the ways race and gender figured in transcultural artistic representations from the 1940s to the 1970s. These artists’ public presence in both the national and global art worlds redefined and repurposed female talent as both a patriotic virtue, and new expressions of gender subjectivities.

Bio: Doris Sung earned her Ph.D. from the Graduate Program in Humanities. She also holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Visual Arts from York University. She has taught courses in Asian art at York and at the University of Toronto. She is also the project coordinator for the international research project in the digital humanities entitled A New Approach to the Popular Press: Gender and Cultural Production, 1904–1937, a collaboration between York University, University of Heidelberg, Academia Sinica (Taipei), and a number of other higher education institutions.


Nishant Upadhyay
Graduate Program in Social and Political Thought
Supervisor: Shobna Nijhawan

“We’ll Sail Like Columbus”: Race, Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism, and the Making of South Asian Diasporas in Canada

Abstract: This dissertation is an interrogation of colonial and racial formations in the making of white settler states. Through an intersectional and transnational exploration of proximities between South Asians and Indigenous peoples in Canada, the dissertation unravels South Asian complicities in ongoing processes of colonization of Indigenous peoples and lands. Theorizing “pernicious continuities”—overlapping experiences of racism and colonialism between Indigenous peoples and South Asians—the dissertation studies complexities, complicities, and incommensurabilities in the making of racialized diasporas. However, it argues that varying loci of power and privilege render these complicities ambiguous, entwined, and invisible. Deploying traces as a methodological tool to study settler colonial processes, the dissertation explores the intersections of colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy. Further, while anti-Native racism has its own genealogies in settler societies, these grammars of anti-Native racism function in relation to processes of casteism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and border making in the making of “model” South Asian diasporas.

The dissertation draws from varying theoretical frameworks and research in Vancouver, British Columbia and Fort McMurray, Alberta. It looks at three sites of resource extraction—logging and canneries in British Columbia in the 1970s-90s and tar sands in Alberta presently—as spaces of simultaneous dispossession of Indigenous peoples and racialized, gendered, and casted labour formations. In addition, the dissertation also conceptualizes “colonial intimacies” to trace desires between differently racialized and colonized peoples within settler colonial states. It uses multiple qualitative methods, including interviews with community members, activists and academics; oral histories of South Asian migrants; ethnographic methods; archival research; and analysis of literary and visual texts, and events. It also employs storytelling, prose, and semi-autobiographical writing methods. Overall, the dissertation centres Indigenous calls for resurgence and decolonization in theorizing racialized diasporic formations in white settler states.

Bio: Nishant recently finished his Ph.D. in the Graduate Program in Social and Political Thought. Nishant has co-edited a special issue of Feral Feminisms titled: “Complicities, Connections, and Struggles: Critical Transnational Feminists Analyses of Settler Colonialism.” Their work has been published in journals like Women Studies Quarterly, Sikh Formations, and Jindal Global Law Review.  Nishant will be joining Northern Arizona University as a visiting lecturer in 2016-17.