New book explores the colonial genealogy of the modern state

In his early work, Professor Paul Gilroy, one of the most influential scholars in cultural studies, draws attention to how citizenship and belonging are socially lived in profoundly uneven ways, noting that citizenship is more than holding a certain passport.

This, of course, is very true, but Gilroy’s insight raised a different set of questions for York University Sociology Professor Radhika Mongia. How did the passport become one of the defining signifiers of citizenship and of national identity? Why was it required for international movement? What was its genesis?

Cover image courtesy Radhika Mongia

The answers to these questions and others are contained in her new book Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State (Duke University Press, 2018). The book will be formally launched on Thursday, Sept. 13 at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West, in Toronto. Doors open at 7 p.m. and all are welcome. (For full details about the launch, visit

“These questions concerning the passport were somewhere in my mind when I was doing some research, on a totally different topic, at the National Archives of India in New Delhi, and ran into some communication, dating to 1907, from Wilfrid Laurier, then Prime Minister of Canada, suggesting that Indian migration to Canada be restricted by introducing a system of passports, issued selectively,” says Mongia. “It is important to note that Laurier’s interest in restricting Indian migration was directly related to racial anxieties and that his suggestions were voiced in a world where there was little legal justification for prohibiting migration.”

Given the questions Gilroy’s work had provoked for her, Mongia set about trying to piece together the different threads of a decade-long debate, between 1906 and 1917, that culminated in the Indian passport as a document to restrict movement to Canada. “An analysis of the legal elements of these debates, that moved between Canada, Britain and India – all part of the far-flung British empire-state – shows that this outcome signified a radical change in justifying state legitimacy over migration control and in normative conceptions of the modern state,” she says.

There is now a lot of important work on how a deeply racialized migration regime was put in place, across numerous jurisdictions, in the early 20th century and Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State is a part of this important conversation. “My research on the passport subsequently morphed into a set of questions exploring the relationship between colonialism and the modern state, with a focus on Indian migration from 1834, that saw the British abolition of slavery and the beginning of Indian indentured migration, to 1917, when the world was in the throes of World War I,” she notes.

Nowadays, it’s taken as an incontrovertible fact that a defining element of the modern state is the authority to control migration. A historical investigation, such as the one Mongia undertakes in her new book, not only reveals that this is a very recent aspect of the state and of state sovereignty; it also reveals that the regulation of colonial migrations played a critical part in bringing about the transformations that yielded this outcome.

“One main objective of the book is to denaturalize the current dominant view that controlling migration, particularly by restricting entry, is an uncontested and immemorial aspect of the state,” says Mongia.  “Another, larger objective, is to work against the view that the colonial state and the modern state are distinct formations, to draw attention to their historical and continuing entanglements. In locales such as Canada, if one considers the legal and other regimes that govern indigenous communities, this relationality is quite clear – for those willing to see it. But the kind of argument I’m making goes deeper, to suggest that colonial dimensions are now embedded in modern state forms, globally.”

Meticulous and detailed, her research, says Mongia, was a combination of intensive multi-archive work (in India, Britain, South Africa, Mauritius) and reading, rather widely, in different fields, ranging from political theory, feminist theory, and postcolonial studies to legal history, histories of Indian migration, and migration studies, more broadly.

“Oftentimes, we think that archival material, by itself, simply yields up interesting information. While, to a certain extent, this might be true, I think more provocative avenues are opened when we acknowledge the importance of the questions we pose and the conceptual grids we mobilize to make sense of archives,” she says.  “My conceptual grid has sought to move away from the Weberian notion that the state is a territorially circumscribed entity and should be studied as such. While there is much to be learned from adopting this position, I think there is also much that it obscures. In my view, it’s hard to make sense of migration regimes if one adopts analytical positions of territorial closure. In this book, I study migration to see what it can teach us about the relational formation of the modern state.”

The launch of Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State will feature a panel discussion with Radhika Mongia (York University), Bhavani Raman (University of Toronto), Nandita Sharma (University of Hawaii) and Alissa Trotz (University of Toronto). It is co-sponsored by the York Centre for Asian Research, Centre for Feminist Research, Centre for Refugee Studies, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, Graduate Program in Sociology, and the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies (Osgoode Hall Law School).

First-years get formal welcome at New Student Convocation

York Orientation Day featured a New Student Convocation, a Lions Pride pep rally and more

York Orientation Day
It’s an exciting time to be joining the York University community, and thousands of new students heard all of the reasons why during the New Student Convocation held Tuesday afternoon at the Aviva Centre.

The event was new this year and ran as part of York Orientation Day, which also included an academic orientation, a presentation on consent and a pep rally.

The New Student Convocation was designed to officially welcome incoming students, and put emphasis on the first-year experience.

The ceremony kicked off with the piping in of York University President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, along with vice-presidents, deans and others who were dressed in full academic regalia.

Shoukri spoke to students about the excellent choice they made in selecting York University, not only for academics but their growth as individuals.

“You have chosen to join a dynamic, diverse community,” he said. “You will enjoy years of growth and years of discovery.”

York University President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri welcomed students at the New Student Orientation event (Photo by Mike Tatarski)
York University President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri welcomed students at the New Student Orientation event (Photo by Mike Tatarski)

Over the next few years, students will be immersed in a “particularly transformative time at the university,” he said, with the building of two new subways, a state-of-the-art engineering building, and a new campus in Markham.

He also touched on the success of students at York University, as well as those across the province, citing a new study released last year that indicates Ontario university grads are getting the best jobs and the best pay.

Every day, members of the York University community are changing the world, he said, through research, teaching excellence, community service and leadership.

“I hope you will discover here a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to make change,” he said.

Vice-President Academic and Provost Rhonda Lenton also addressed the students and reinforced the importance of involvement both in and out of the classroom. She also spent some time explaining the role of the deans, and what they do to make York University progressive and distinct.

Tips for success were offered to students by Vice-Provost Students Janet Morrison, who agreed involvement will lead to an enriched experience. She also suggested students explore the campus, learn about the University’s resources and stay focused on their purpose.

Professor Emeritus Greg Malszecki took the podium to read a touching poem from Priscila Uppal, celebrated writer and York U professor of humanities.

The poem, titled “From a Professor to a Student at the Start of the Year”, offered students useful advice about starting school and how to get the most out of the experience.

A particularly moving line from the poem – “I won’t teach you to conquer the world, but I will teach you to open the doors” – gave students a picture of the endless possibilities of an education.

Gerry Dee spoke at the New Student Convocation on Sept. 8 (Photo by Mike Tatarski)
Gerry Dee spoke at the New Student Convocation on Sept. 8 (Photo by Mike Tatarski)

Closing out the New Student Convocation was guest speaker Gerry Dee, a York U alumnus and recognized comedian and entertainer.

Dee’s advice to new students was to live in the moment, and take action. He shared his own experience at York, and confessed that attending the University was not his first choice, but enrolled so he could live at home and save money. He spent his first year commuting to campus, feeling like he was missing out on the university experience his friends were having.

But, he said, part way through his second year he realized he had the ability to take control of those things.

“I decided to take action on these things I thought I was missing,” he said.

Dee joined intramurals, and spent more time on campus meeting people, and realized that “any university you go to is what you make of it.”

He also emphasized the importance of keeping an open mind with academics, and shared that while at York he started in business administration, moved to geography and finished in kinesiology.

“I am using not one of the things I studied,” Dee said, “but things will find a way of working out for you.

“I’m very proud to have graduated from this school.”

As part of the New Student Convocation first-years experienced the annual You Had Me At Consent presentation on healthy relationships.

The final segment of York Orientation Day was a Lions Pride pep rally featuring a variety of musical and dance performances from student organizations.

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, YFile deputy editor

Orientation: New Lions welcomed to the ‘pride’ in style

Lions Pride Orientation event 2014

At a time of year when most of the world is settling down and preparing to slumber through the winter months, September marks the sudden coming-to-life of York’s campuses. Every summer it is easy to forget just how much energy and activity York University students contribute to campus life.

Last week, that energy swept through York’s Keele and Glendon campuses like a whirlwind. Where just two weeks earlier there was only the quiet buzz of a few students and faculty on campus for work, or to pick up their books early, Orientation Week (O-Week) arrived by storm and set the tone for what surely will be an energetic school year.

Day one: Move-in Day

York U President and Vice -Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri gets into the move-in day spirit with a Frosh Boss
York U President and Vice -Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri gets into the move-in day spirit with a Frosh Boss

York U Orientation continued its longstanding tradition of assisting parents and new students as they moved their belongings into residence. On Monday, Sept. 1, as many cars packed to the roof with possessions pulled up to the Keele and Glendon residences, new students and their families didn’t have anything left to carry after York’s O-Week leaders arrived shouting welcomes and helping with moving the endless boxes, bags and books into York’s residences. The enthusiasm of these dedicated O-Week leaders reached heroic levels and didn’t drop for the entire week.

Day two: Making Connections Day

Four McLaughlin College Frosh bosses show off their winning style during Social Orientation
McLaughlin College frosh

One of the highlights of 2014 Orientation Week was Making Connections Day at the Rexall Centre on Tuesday, Sept.2. This event is unique to York University and is intended to provide students with an easier transition to university life from high school, as well as give them a crash course in the importance of consent during the presentation portion of the day.

Making Connections was the culmination of YU START, a summer-long program that connects new students to senior students online and offers assistance with course selection and becoming familiar to the University. YU START offers new students a place to meet other classmates before they even set foot on campus. After a summer of anticipation, YU START students finally had the opportunity to meet with people they had been in touch with online during the summer months, including their professors and teaching assistants and York U staff.

At the Rexall Centre, first-year students and orientation leaders attended You Had Me at Consent, a talk designed to educate students about the importance of “enthusiastic consent” in all aspects of relationships. Keynote speakers Rachel Griffin and Joshua Phillips focused mainly on popular culture and its relation to sexual violence in their presentation, which encouraged students to treat others with dignity and respect, and to speak out when witnessing behaviour they feel is not appropriate for an inclusive and safe space.

Making Connections was the result of a pan-University collaboration involving the Office of the Vice-Provost Students, the Centre for Human Rights and Student Community and Leadership Development (SCLD). The York Federation of Students offered their support as well, providing students with important context for the event in their opening remarks as the event’s MCs. Thousands of first-year students attended.

Day three: Academic Orientation

Academic Orientation gets into full swing
Academic Orientation gets into full swing

There is never a dull moment during O-Week and the following day was no exception. Wednesday, Sept. 3 was academic orientation day for many colleges, and orientation leaders filled the gaps between sessions with campus tours, scavenger hunts and creative games. Many students shared photos of their academic orientations, where deans, department chairs and professors gave presentations to help prepare students for their first year of university.

Days four and five: Social Orientation kicks into high gear

Days four and five were packed primarily with social orientation events among colleges, with each college venturing off to Wasaga Beach for some end-of-summer fun in the sun. Another tradition among college orientations at York are downtown tours. O-Week leaders take their first-year students into the heart of downtown Toronto to introduce them to life in the city. This event is especially fun for students who attend school from outside the Greater Toronto Area, and for many of them it is their first opportunity to tour Toronto since moving into residence.

Day six: Lions’ Pride

The second annual Lions’ Pride event was held at the Harry W. Arthurs Common on Saturday, Sept. 6. Once again, thousands of first-year students (now official frosh) took part in a parade, dancing to the drum beats of the York Samba Squad. At the common, they received an official welcome from representatives from the York Federation of Students, Vice-Provost Students Janet Morrison, President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and York basketball Lions Daniel Tulloch and Richard Iheadindu. The speakers challenged the first-year students to make the most of their University experience by getting involved. The rally also included a grand college cheer-off, exceptional performances by York’s hip-hop group Dark Dances and York’s a cappella group Wibi. Rally towels, T-shirts and beach balls were given out to participants.

Lions’ Pride was organized by SCLD, in collaboration with the 2014 members of the York Orientation Directors Association (YODA). Following Lions’ Pride, frosh participated in the Colour Run, organized by YODA. Once they were painted in red and charged with York spirit, they headed over to the York stadium to cheer on the Lions men’s football team as they took on the Western Mustangs. Spirit continued to be high throughout the Lions Frosh Frenzy Home Opener despite the Lions’ loss to the Western University Mustangs. The football game proved to be a great way to signal the beginning of the end of Orientation 2014.

York O-Week makes the news

Adding to the success of York’s Orientation Week, the University was featured on local and national news stations. Global News Toronto did a story on University Orientation Weeks and set the interviews on York’s Keele campus, while CBC’s “The National” covered York University’s roommate selection software in a story about how first-years’ choose their roommates.

O-Week a.k.a. “The Week of the Selfie”

A presidential "selfie"
A presidential “selfie” with a bit of an Oscar night feel

Some say 2013 was the year of the selfie, but if O-Week was any indication, York might be carrying that tradition into the 2014-15 school year. Dozens of spirit-filled selfies were posted on social media last week, and many were taken with York’s president, who got into the O-Week spirit by taking his own Oscar selfie while on stage at the Making Connections event.

Looking ahead to O-Week 2015

Orientation this year was like nothing this campus has ever seen before. Thanks to the efforts of the SCLD team, the York Federation of Students, the Centre for Human Rights, the RedZone, YODA and Vice-Provost Students Janet Morrison, campus-wide O-Week put more emphasis on York spirit than in years previous. Several incredible York-wide events were added to the O-Week lineup, including Making Connections and the Keele Carnival.

Submitted to YFile by Lindsay Presswell, a fourth-year English major in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. The Lion’s Pride photo essay was submitted to YFile by Mike Kasaboski, student engagement and media coordinator, SCLD.