Sunera Thobani


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Sadhee sehayth (our health) project : health inequity in Canada’s universal healthcare system through the experiences of the Punjabi Sikh Diaspora living with cardiovascular disease (2023)

The Sadhee Sehayth (Our Health) Project investigates how British Columbia’s health authorities support diversity, anti-racism and equity for patients and their families. I selected Post/Colonial, Critical Race and Feminist Theories to analyze the complex and pervasive ideologies that inform institutional structures. Using a Critical Ethnographic approach, I addressed the following research questions: 1. How are institutional diversity discourses and actions constructed, and how do they shape healthcare experience for racialized communities?; 2. How do institutional diversity discourses and actions shape experiences for one racialized diaspora community, the Punjabi Sikh Diaspora when seeking cardiovascular healthcare, and 3. what does this analysis tell us about how systemic structures are conceptualized and might be improved for healthcare delivery for racialized communities? Phase one examined the diversity commitments of health authorities through an analysis of mission statements, visions and values. The analysis revealed that health equity is not prioritized in the institutional statements for 7 of the 8 health authorities. The absence of these markers reaffirms that anti-racist ideologies are not conceptualized into the institutional identities of British Columbia’s healthcare delivery organizations. Phase 2 concentrated on the diversity practices of 4 health authorities. Diversity workers faced numerous obstacles including organizational resistance to maintaining diversity programming, negligible funding and minimal staffing. The most promising finding was the number of informal diversity workers who volunteered to act as diversity liaisons and educators. To gain a patient perspective, Phase 3 focused on Punjabi Sikh Diaspora patients who had experienced a myocardial infarction and recently discharged from a local hospital. Despite the availability of diversity, spiritual care, interpreter and cardiac rehabilitation programming, these participants were not asked about their cultural or religious needs; not offered spiritual care services; interpreter support was minimal to non-existent; post-surgery treatment and care plans were not adequately communicated; and they were not offered information or referrals to cardiac rehabilitation programs. The dissertation concludes with a list of recommendations to improve health equity for racialized communities.

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Deframing techno-coloniality: Sikh spirituality in the age of the technocene (2020)

This dissertation seeks to engage with Martin Heidegger’s critique of modern technology in order to formulate a new conception of coloniality as techno-coloniality. Additionally, it argues that the Sikh spirituality can make a creative contribution towards building a decolonial future based on an alternative conception of technology. Heidegger envisioned Gestell, or Enframing, as the essence of technology which treats everything that exists as merely exploitable resources. This insight is very helpful in rethinking coloniality as techno-coloniality. The disciplines of postcolonial and decolonial studies have not given adequate attention to the question of technology. It has often gone unacknowledged that modern technology is not the only form of technology and that it is unlike other forms of technologies that originated within non-European cultures. What distinguishes modern technology from other technologies is that it is grounded in Western metaphysics. This research establishes that in order to build decolonial futures, it is imperative that the link between Western metaphysics and modern technology are exposed. The promise of decolonial futures can become a concrete historical reality through deframing. Deframing consists of deconstructing the logic of Enframing as well as drawing from alternative cosmologies to build a different conception of technics, for which, I have drawn on the Sikh tradition. I have argued that the Sikh conceptions of nature as Kudrat and labor as kirat can make substantial contributions towards building a decolonial future.

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Responses to and Interpretation of Anti-Muslim Racism in Canada: A Community Perspective (2016)

Against the backdrop of rising levels of anti-“Muslim” racism (aka Islamophobia) in Canada, coupled with the nation-state’s targeting and surveillance of these communities, my dissertation sets out to interpret the responses to this racism by the affected communities themselves. In this study, I employ qualitative methodology within a critical race theoretical framework informed by indigenous and post-colonial theory. After inviting participation from self-identified Muslim and Arab community organizations, whether outwardly responding to racism or not, over a one year period (2011-2012), I interviewed eleven diverse organizations, all of which are working in various capabilities and focus on community capacity building – including in the sectors of professional mentorship and networking, activities such as multi/inter-faith programming, social services, and advocacy for their communities. I asked participants to share their narratives and views on a wide array of questions: their assessment of the situation of their communities and constituencies in Canada, their experiences with “community government,” and their assessment of the “good Muslim/bad Muslim” nexus. I classify data I gathered into a heuristic of three types of responses: direct, status and native informant, and argue that although most of them fall into the range of status, it is direct responses – ones that commence and attend to racial injustice – that can have the most positive impact in terms of overall responses to systemic anti-Muslim racism.

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Perceptions and Deceptions: Perspectives on Adoptions from South Korea to North America (2012)

This study provides a critical synthesis of existing research on adoptions from South Korea to the United States, and adds a comparison with adoptions from Korea to Canada. The focus is on the intersections of gender, race, class, and age, in Korea and the receiving countries. The first chapter provides an overview of debates on transnational, transracial adoption and justifies an interdisciplinary approach. The three central chapters look at adoptions from Korea to the US in three chronological stages. Each of these chapters begins with an examination of historical and sociological studies of adoptions from Korea, complemented by my own fieldwork there. This is followed by analyses of auto/bio/graphical texts in relation to the historical and socio-political background for that period. The focus in Chapter 2 is on the perspective of adopters, and analysis of the memoirs of Bertha Holt throws light on the origins of adoptions from Korea to the US. Chapter 3 conveys the perspective of Korean birthmothers, whose ‘letters’ to the relinquished child provide insight into the reasons for the continuation of adoptions from Korea.Chapter 4 moves to the perspective of adult adoptees who have returned to Korea and produced accounts representing a range of views on transnational, transracial adoption. The fifth chapter, dealing with Canada, adds the perspective of a Canadian adoption agency and would-be parents seeking to adopt from Korea, as adoptions from there are being phased out. Throughout the study terms borrowed from Foucault serve to highlight how collective and individual genealogies and power relations compete and intersect in the perceptions and interpretations of all those concerned. The central question is why and how perceptions of transnational adoptions from Korea have changed, in relation to institutional power (disciplines and biopower) and technologies of the self as means to enable adoptees and birthmothers to emerge from tutelage to care of/for the self. The Conclusion looks at the present situation in South Korea and an alternative heterotopic solution, the “children’s village.”

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South Asian immigrant women's access to and experiences with breast and cervical cancer screening services in Canada (2012)

A qualitative feminist study, informed by social constructionist epistemology, antiracist theories and intersectionality perspectives, was conducted in order to understand South Asian immigrant women’s access to and experiences with breast and cervical cancer screening services in Canada. Particular attention was paid to the wider context of their lives and their experiences of migration, resettlement, integration and general access to the Canadian healthcare system. The study also explored how the broader systems, structures and policies in Canadian society shape South Asian immigrant women’s participation in and access to cancer screening services. Thirty one South Asian immigrant women were interviewed in individual, couple and group settings in greater Vancouver. Research findings indicated that women’s age, length of stay since immigration, educational and generational status, not/having a family history or symptoms impact their use or lack of use of cancer screening services; but these factors also intersect in complex ways with various systemic and structural issues including not having a recommendation from physicians, women’s financial instability, access to income, employment, settlement services and community resources, levels of socioeconomic integration and familiarity with the Canadian healthcare system, and gender roles and responsibilities. Women’s narratives also showed that the immigration factor amplify the intersecting forms of inequities and the social determinants of health such as gender, class, poverty, racialization and discrimination, and affect women’s physical and mental health and access to healthcare services, cancer screening being one of them. An intersectional analysis revealed that the gendered and racialized immigration and integration policies, multicultural discourses and neoliberal ideologies and practices intersect to situate South Asian immigrant women into racialized and disadvantaged situations as the ‘other’ wherein access to preventive cancer screening services becomes especially challenging. South Asian women’s access to cancer screening and other healthcare services needs to be understood beyond the attempts to know their cultural health beliefs and practices, and beyond the neoliberal ideas of ‘self-care,’ ‘individual responsibility,’ ‘patient empowerment,’ and ‘culturally sensitive care.’ Also, equitable access to health care cannot be ensured without resisting these women’s racialized position as the ‘other’ and addressing the social, political, historical, material and structural inequities in Canadian society.

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The (Un)making of home, entitlement and nation: an intersectional organizational study of power relations in Vancouter Status of Women, 1971-2008 (2012)

Women's organizing and organizations in North America emerge at historical moments within the larger women's movement across geographies, political climates, and nation formations. Within all movements, the workings of power relations are active, demanding constant negotiations and contestations. This is a case study of one feminist organization, Vancouver Status of Women (VSW). I illustrate the ways VSW challenged, contested, reproduced and reinforced power relations and specifically nation-building discourses. Drawing on both extensive historical archival data and in-depth expert interviews, I engaged in a qualitative case study of VSW's workings of power relations from its inception in 1971 to 2008. I interviewed thirty-one women who worked in some capacity as staff or board members. Archival research involved locating primary documents such as organizational meeting minutes, policies, annual reports, bylaws, newsletters, publications, organizational correspondence, and other relevant documentation. By engaging in an intersectional critical race feminist discourse analysis, I explicate the construction of VSW as home, and demonstrate how nation-building discourses of belonging and entitlement are embedded within this organizational site. Organizational processes and policies indicate the historical trajectory of how, when and who challenged, responded, and reproduced power relations. This study provides several theoretical, methodological, and substantive implications. My research challenges dominant organizational theory's notion that organizations are neutral sites. I argue that organizations are constituted as sites of colonial encounters by demonstrating how power as relational and archival are invoked and deployed in VSW, and some of its effects. I illustrate how VSW is embedded in the colonial archive of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women which reproduced nation-building discourses of essentialism, racialization, and exclusion. The research also offers a conceptualization of power present in organizations while applying Foucault's understanding of power as a network of relations and discourses that circulates as productive. I also present a theoretical framework of the modalities of entitlement embedded in national belonging and accumulated national capital across multiple sites producing the exalted feminist of the nation. Lastly, I propose a more nuanced ethical Affirmative Action Policy based on participants' lessons learnt that shifts beyond tokenism and representation.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Representation of gender, marriage, Punjabi diaspora and the homeland in Punjabi cinema (2023)

This thesis examines the construction of gender, marriage, homeland, and diaspora in three transnational Punjabi films set in Indian Punjab, Canada and the United Kingdom. Three major themes emerge from the films under study: construction of masculinities and femininities; imagined and embodied homeland; and desires to ‘return’ to the homeland within diasporic communities. The discussion relevant to the broader themes of migration, marriage, homeland, and the diaspora are presented under each of these themes.

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Silent adhan : exploring the muslim call to prayer in metro Vancouver (2022)

The adhan is the Muslim call to prayer which is recited five times a day to call the faithful to pray. In contrast to many Muslim majority countries in the world where the adhan is audible and a part of the public soundscape, the adhan is not publicly recited regularly in Canada. Due to Covid-19, limited public recitations of the adhan have been allowed since 2020, during the Ramadan period of fasting. In this thesis I explore the absence of the public recitation of the adhan in Metro Vancouver. The adhan and its public recitation has not attracted specific scholarly attention in Canada. It is a lacuna in the scholarship surrounding Islam in Canada. This thesis centers the adhan and its public recitation through an interdisciplinary methodology using research-creation (an original short film – Silent Azaan which forms a part of this thesis) and an analysis of an online archive of documented public adhan recitations in Canada in 2020 hosted at the web platform. During the Ramadan fast in the Spring of 2020, the convergence of Covid-19 and a ban on indoor public gatherings resulted in Muslims seeking approval for limited recitations of the adhan in some cities in Canada. These 2020 recitations across Canada provide some insights into how further inclusion of the adhan into the public soundscape might be received by municipal governments and various publics. I argue that multiculturalism narratives provide an unsatisfactory framework for inclusion of the adhan in the public soundscape. These narratives serve to mask Canada’s roots as a white settler colonial nation, but multiculturalism may persist as a “most acceptable”, “least controversial” paradigm around which Muslims, governments and various publics can coalesce for further future inclusion of the adhan in the Canadian public soundscape. This thesis examines the complexities involved and lays out a foundation for future debates on the topic, something which was lacking when I began.

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Current Students & Alumni

This is a small sample of students and/or alumni that have been supervised by this researcher. It is not meant as a comprehensive list.

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