Dina Al-Kassim

Associate Professor

Research Interests

Artistic and Literary Movements, Schools and Styles
Artistic and Literary Theories
Arts and Cultural Traditions
Arts, Literature and Subjectivity
comparative literature: Arabic, English, French
Gender Relationship
Identity and Transnationality
Philosophy, History and Comparative Studies
queer theory

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology

critical theory


Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).

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These videos contain some general advice from faculty across UBC on finding and reaching out to a potential thesis supervisor.

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.

Philosophy now! : genealogies of philosophical journalism & the question of the present (2023)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Inheritances: negotiating kinship in Indigenous and other modernisms (2022)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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The turn to sacred address in transnational HIV/AIDS writing (2022)

The Turn to Sacred Address in Transnational HIV/AIDS Writing argues that authors from the U.S. and South Africa reach for spiritual figures in literary responses to pandemic to create space for liveability faced with death’s nearness. I show how writers respond to AIDS as a biopolitical crisis with roots in longer histories of colonial disease and racialized medicine through forms of sacred expression. Guided by anti-colonial and feminist approaches to subjectivity, politics, and power, I theorize “sacred address” as a relational scene of speech and writing that enables possibilities for life and survival from within conditions of modern biopolitical subjection. Methods of literary analysis are conditioned by frameworks of secular modernity and the AIDS pandemic is marked by troubling histories of religious stigma and violence. In these contexts, the spiritual dimensions of AIDS writing are often elided or rendered unintelligible. I propose how listening to “sacred address” can reframe our understanding of literary method, race, and sexuality in ways that are attentive to the materiality of spiritual life-worlds. In chapter one, I explore how South African writer K. Sello Duiker’s novel The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2000) attends to the psychic imprint of racial and colonial subjection through the evocation of divine cosmologies. In chapters two and three, I scrutinize the impulse to read AIDS writing as a form of truth-telling through a comparative reading of American artist and writer David Wojnarowicz and South African writer Phaswane Mpe. While Wojnarowicz’s films, photography, and writing (1989-1991) contemplate the entanglement of eroticism, spirituality, and morality, Mpe’s novel Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001) responds to the crisis of AIDS and its silencing through a spiritual meditation on life, death, and illness. In chapter four, I show how Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Almanac of the Dead (1991) casts AIDS within the evils of capitalist colonialism and imagines forms of spiritual anti-colonial dissent. In my conclusion, I analyze the Black gay poetics of Haitian American poet Assotto Saint as a queer contestation of secular modernity that threads between abjection and transcendence toward an alternative form of empowerment.

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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.

"From Nowhere to Somewhere": the desires of a black transman's futurity (2021)

The demand for scholarly works concerning black transmen’s experience within the fields ofTransgender Studies, black feminist thought and Critical Race Studies continues to be longedfor. As an immediate attendance to this longing for the concern of black trans beings, this workcomes as a provisional glimpse into the complex relationships between race and gender as socialcategories, and as analytics concerning the figuring of being black and trans. Five works byblack trans scholars presenting inquiries into the status’ of blackness, gender and being areanalyzed, compared and ultimately grounded, to set my foundation for a creative method ofpractice for black transmen to augment their futurity towards one that is hoped for.

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Displacement and/as nationalism: the sea as a reparative space (2020)

This thesis examines the ways in which memories of displacement interact with and forge national landscapes as well as national subjects. In this thesis, Amal Sewtohul’s novel Made in Mauritius (2012), as well as selected poems from Khal Torabully’s Cale d'étoiles-Coolitude (1992) and Chair corail: fragments coolies (1999), are used a terrain of analysis. I analyse mobility of the national subject, and perennial movement situated at the crux of these texts as resistance to rootedness hence capsizing national authority. Displaced bodies are unable to fully root themselves in their homeland as they hold on to the memory of their ancestral land. The sea is presented as a reparative tool—movement moored in its essence—cutting across time and space to bind together narrative, histories and lands. The space of the sea is retrieved, and terra-analysis is forsaken. Roots—singular and crystalized—as utilized in nationalist discourses—are disrupted when it is joined to routes. To make displacement and mobility the essence of one’s existence is to overcome the traumatic wounds of spatiotemporal separation that the nation inflicts on national bodies that inhabit its borders by urging them to belong. Ultimately, this thesis seeks a re-reading of the national landscape via vocabularies of the sea.

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Postcolonial exclusions: the securitization of citizenship in 21st century british black and asian writing (2020)

This thesis will examine the securitization of British citizenship in the 21st century as presented in Levi David Addai’s 2008 play, Oxford Street, and in Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s 2019 poetry collection, Postcolonial Banter. It builds on 20th century postcolonial literature and scholarship, which critiques the colonial development of British citizenship and the systematic exclusions of citizens born into (former) British colonies across Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Situated against a backdrop of proliferating detentions, deportations, and citizenship deprivations, my discussion traces the texts’ emphases on pervasive surveillance and disciplinary measures, which are entangling citizenship with state security in the 21st century. In particular, they both highlight the—increasingly quotidian—biopolitical obligations on citizen-subjects to produce themselves as border guards of the state. I analyse how both Addai and Manzoor-Khan expose the racialized, gendered, and classed configurations of citizenship and in/security, which expose Black, Asian, and Muslim postcolonial citizens to scrutiny and exclusion. In doing so, I suggest that these writers challenge the state-defined borders of British citizenship which suspect, and only conditionally admit, their presence. I end by questioning whether these literary challenges offer creative and critical strategies of resistance against the securitization of citizenship in the 21st century.

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The sous-reel and postcolonial possibility in the writing of Dambudzo Marechera (2020)

The writing of Zimbabwean author Dambudzo Marechera still only has a small (though growing) body of criticism which surrounds it. Within current research, altogether too much space is devoted to the salaciousness of Marechera’s personal life, while less attention is given to his methods. My thesis uses postcolonial, psychoanalytical, and political literary theory in order to examine Marechera’s body of creative writing. Marechera was an African author of avant-garde fiction. I begin by situating his fiction within a longer genealogy of the avant-garde in Africa (a genealogy that is notably absent from European literary theories of the avant-garde). In this section, I look at novels written by Gabriel Okara, Ayi Kwei Armah, Bessie Head and K. Sello Duiker. I examine how their incorporation of their native tongue into English (Okara), their use of obscenity (Armah), and their explorations of mental illness (Head and Duiker), all coincide with Marechera’s writing practice. In my second chapter, I move into a deeper exploration of Marechera’s novellas, short stories and multi-modal works. Here I call upon postcolonial psychoanalysis (such as the work of Stefania Pandolfo), black scholarship on race and structures of power (specifically through Lindon Barrett), and existing Marechera scholarship. Primarily looking at his two short novels, House of Hunger and Black Sunlight, I examine how Marechera takes and adapts avant-garde strategies in order to create stories that capture Zimbabwean life at a particularly chaotic decolonial moment. I term his technique “sous-realism” because of his devotion to representing humanity at its most debased and visceral. His writing, which scrapes at the dark undersides of reality, is anti-authoritarian to its core. I argue that this devotion to anti- authoritarianism sets him apart from African social realists who used fiction as a tool for decolonization. Afraid of growing totalitarianism in the nations surrounding Zimbabwe, Marechera’s avant-garde poetics provided a crucial counterpoint to social realism.

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In translation/transition: what happens when hijra and/or khawaja sara meets transgender? (2019)

South Asia is currently seeing a rise in the usage and deployment of the term and concept of transgender to describe hijra and khawaja sara communities in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. This situation leads to numerous points of inquiry and discussion that allow for explorations of local-transnational knowledge flows, dissemination of terms and concepts from one are to another and vice versa, the relationship between the local and the global, and the benefits and problems of using transgender to describe various other gender groups in the world. This thesis examines both the benefits and drawbacks of using transgender in South Asia as a term to describe hijra and khawaja sara. It also looks at contemporary events and configurations of meaning making in the context of colonialism, imperialism, and post-colonialism. It examines historical documents, news articles, scholarly works, and popular media. It also asks whether any one term or concept can adequately address the situation at hand. This thesis finds that while transgender does work to some extant, it also exposes many gaps and fissures that serve as useful entry points to examine the situation in a more nuanced fashion. By looking at race, sexuality, sex, and gender as entangled within one another, rather than as entirely separable constructs, this thesis finds that while no one term or concept is a direct translation, a better question is instead to ask what can be done to adequately address (trans) gender configurations in an increasingly global context. It finishes with inquiries into the concept of translation itself, and finds that translation per se is not what is best to theorize around, but rather metaphors of knowledge that allow for the entangled realities this thesis describes to be taken into account are a more effective approach. This thesis then proposes a series of linguistic metaphors to serve as a tool and starting point to allow for further inquiries to enable discussions of local and global transgender studies beyond merely translation.

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The Impossible Love of Images: Morel, Marienbad, and the (Re-)production of Fantasy Beyond the Lacanian Symbolic (2016)

My intent with this thesis is to outline an aesthetic relation that challenges the Lacanian conception of a human subject “captured and tortured by language” (Seminar III 243). Through a reading of two works, a novel and a film, I demonstrate that the Lacanian symbolic—the register of language—cannot sufficiently describe the processes of subjectivation manifest in the works. A consideration of the subject as participating in a reflexive construction of psychical reality through the proliferation of fantasy is necessary to comprehend these works and the unique relation among them. Jean Laplanche’s theory of fantasy serves a model for this understanding. The first of these works is a novel published by the Argentine writer, Adolfo Bioy Casares, in 1941, The Invention of Morel, and the second is the well-known film from the French New Wave, Last Year at Marienbad from 1961, directed by Alain Resnais and written by novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet. These works stage a scene of fantasy (a fantasy of seduction) that involves the intervention of image-making technologies—this intervention allows the fantasy scene to self-duplicate to the point of organizing the formal arrangement of the works themselves. Finally, the production of The Invention of Morel and Last Year at Marienbad comes to replicate this same fantasy scene, suggesting that fantasy itself, through aesthetic (re-)production, can perform the function that Lacan’s ascribes to the symbolic—that is, insistence.

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Community and the politics of mouring in the work and world of David Wojnarowicz (2014)

This thesis analyzes the writings of New York artist, David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) and the forms of activism that were inspired by his work as sites through which to examine the contours of politics and community in late 1980s and early 1990s New York. In his collection of autobiographical essays, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration (1991), Wojnarowicz proposes an alternative model of selfhood and confronts his own mortality, thereby disrupting the category of the bounded individual in favour of a self that is beholden to others. His text offers an ethical revelation by asking why some deaths matter more than others – more specifically, how the death of a queer man from AIDS is perceived to be less tragic than the death of a middle-class child in America. Wojnarowicz’s reflections on the politics of mourning were taken up by activists following his death in 1992. In particular, passages of his writing insisting on the need to make mourning public inspired a series of political funerals and protest actions. My project questions an argumentative logic that insists artists and activists directly refute and undermine biomedical regulation through their work. Engaging with such arguments, I advance a reading of both Wojnarowicz’s writings and the protests his work inspired that considers the difficulty of formulating acts of resistance within a biopolitical order. Wojnarowicz’s art and the public memorial actions that followed his death enable a reimagining of community and politics through mourning in the midst of the AIDS crisis. They do so by enacting an alternative model of selfhood, confronting mortality and inspiring a politicization of grief.

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