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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Architectures of raciality : racial grids and the convergences of the racial nonhuman in Canada, Singapore, and Malaysia O'Brien, Michelle Siobhan


This dissertation examines the emergence of racial grids, which define and organize categories of racial difference in relation to one another in a hierarchical manner, in Canada, Singapore, and Malaysia. It considers their varied approaches to embodied lived experiences of race and as belonging to a broader logic of raciality across the postcolonial world. This project focuses on three thematic points of comparison: the use of English as a mediator of racial distinction; the lasting influence of narratives of raciality that emerged during moments of inter-communal violence; and more recent recastings of these grids under forms of state-directed multiculturalism under conditions of globalization. This project examines these issues through sociopolitical theory and socio-juridical documents, as well as through Asian Canadian literature and post-Independence writing in English from Malaysia and Singapore. Drawing the work of Denise Ferreira da Silva, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, this dissertation theorizes a figuration called the racial nonhuman in order to analyze how race organizes populations based on human types and defines them against an ideal, that is white and European, human. The racial nonhuman is engendered by historical, socio-juridical, and aesthetic discourses that render particular bodies as simultaneously within these nations and their demands for different racial types, but outside their ideal body politic. I analyze works by Fred Wah, Shirley Lim, Larissa Lai, Tan Twan Eng, and Lydia Kwa to compare how these nations have instituted and maintained their racial grids, as well as to examine how the racial nonhuman is contested and reimagined across these contexts.

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