Barbara Arneil


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
In Hajar's footsteps : a de-colonial and islamic ethic of care (2020)

This dissertation radically reimagines the boundaries of political theory as a practice and as a tradition in three ways. First, I surface the ableist and colonial paradigm of recognition that shapes the study of Islam and the “Muslim Other” in comparative political theory and care ethics. The colonial legacy of political theory lives on within the textual sensibilities of political theorists, inherited from white-orientated reading practices, epistemic white privilege, and matricide as an epistemological orientation. Refusing to (un)learn how colonial histories of sense-contact have shaped our practices of reading and writing compromises the witnessing capacities of political theorists. In turn, we become complicit in authoring and authorizing colonial world-building practices. Second, I trace how white-orientated and heteropatriarchal conceptions of citizenship travel through the inheritance of the nation-state. Imperial readings of disability, (inter)dependency and care, both within and outside the Islamic tradition, render Muslim women and disabled Muslims as misfits in our knowledge relations. Through auto-ethnography I argue care-based modes of knowing Islam are needed to theorize accessibility because 1) disabled Muslims and care-givers remain visible only through frames of charity or tragedy; 2) situations of dependency care render one ontologically and epistemically incapable of sensing and knowing the Islamic; 3) interpretive authority is sanctioned by legal scholars, Muslim men, or white and secular scholars; and 4) narratives of informal care-giving, care-based epistemologies of Islam and the epistemic authority of disabled Muslims and Muslim women are denigrated within the ecology of Islamic knowledges. I design various care-based and intersectional Islamic technologies by which (non)Muslims can harness care as a critical sensibility that orients how we read, write and think about what is “Islamic”, whose bodies we identify as interpretive authorities, and which types of knowledge we authorize as “Islam.” Third, I turn away from imagining moral epistemologies of care to focus on the praxis behind care-based epistemologies of Islam and its vast potential for coalitional politics and de-colonial movement building. By de-centering whiteness, I re-conceive what it means to be a Muslim on Turtle Island and practice Islam in a settler-colonial society.

View record

The colonial denizen : a proposal to move beyond the politics of recognition toward a politics of responsibilities (2020)

Since the twentieth century Canadian political scientists, government and society have become increasingly aware of the need to address the various effects and realities of colonialism. This has been a positive step forward for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike and has led to various steps toward ‘reconciliation’ if not decolonization. And yet, the predominant, mainstream approaches taken or proffered by (largely non-Indigenous) scholars and government officials, in response to Indigenous peoples’ calls for change, can only go so far in the move toward decolonization. This is because they are stuck within the logics of liberal democracy and recognition, based within the prevailing arguments that moving beyond contemporary colonial situations can only be achieved through either a more comprehensive extension of liberal democratic (settler) citizenship to Indigenous peoples, or through proper ‘recognition’ of Indigenous peoples from within a predominantly non-Indigenous (settler) perspective and societal structure. Not only are these arguments inappropriate responses to collective colonial realities, they also lead to the further entrenchment of colonial structures, relations and policies because they do not attempt the necessary self-reflexivity and openness to change that decolonization requires. My proposal is that non-Indigenous peoples, in order that they can properly hear and respond to Indigenous peoples’ calls for decolonization, move beyond these aforementioned approaches and consider themselves ‘foreigners’ in need of invitation onto Indigenous lands – both past and present. I suggest that as colonial denizens non-Indigenous Canadians take up an ethos that encourages them to re-evaluate their lives and relations with Indigenous peoples, lands and the settler state. The following provides a thought experiment centered around the colonial denizen through which non-Indigenous peoples are encouraged to question the sovereignty of the state, the impacts of the Canadian citizenship regime, their daily lives, and their relations to land at the same time that it encourages them to place responsibilities to others above inwardly-focused rights. I contend that such a thought experiment can open a path toward the instantiation of this denizen ethos (both discursively and materially), an ethos which acts as a potential and active way through which non-Indigenous peoples could appropriately and seriously meet Indigenous peoples’ calls for change.

View record

The making of a “peaceable kingdom” : land, peopling and progress in an expanding Canada (2019)

My dissertation mobilises the tools of critical political theory to study the processes of land appropriation and cultural homogenisation over lands claimed by Canada in the development of the Canadian state and identity. I examine the justifications for Canadian attempts at incorporating non-Canadian lands and peoples by using the case of the “North-West” (now the Prairie provinces). Adopting James Tully’s critical approach to political philosophy, I scrutinise hundreds of parliamentary and governmental archival documents. These documents reveal that the Canadian state mobilised liberal concepts of peace and progress to justify Canadian territorial and political expansion. I argue that Canada authorised its appropriation of Indigenous lands by claiming that it alone could improve the lands it looked to incorporate. To the extent that Canadian colonial liberalism regarded the Indigenous Peoples of the North-West as requiring the protection and assistance of the Dominion in achieving higher forms of humanity, colonial liberalism also authorised the epistemic violence of their assimilation to emerging settle communities. In short, I show that the Canadian state used colonial liberalism to effect the dispossession and assimilation of Indigenous Peoples necessitated by that its territorial and political development.By bringing into view the violence implicated in Canadian development, this dissertation first challenges the hegemony of the Canadian state and nation as those of a “Peaceable Kingdom”. Secondly, this dissertation uses Canadian political thinking to illuminate the larger liberal tradition. By examining the roots of liberalism in the process of territorial expansion and settlement in Canadian political development, I expose the intimate connection between liberalism and settler colonisation and surface the intrinsically violent potential of liberalism. Finally, this research identifies the potential for exclusion that is built into the liberal tradition and has to be addressed if Canada is to reconcile with the needs and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples. In particular, I argue that the contemporary Canadian liberal regime should redress its exclusionary legacy by supporting land-based practices of Indigenous self-government.

View record

Can we talk? : examining willingness and facilitating deliberative capital (2017)

The question guiding this dissertation is: are people willing and capable of engaging in deliberations with those with whom they disagree on topics that touch upon and challenge their cultural and religious identities as well as the values and practices attached to those identities? Willingness for deliberation—the first key step in deliberative processes—has been taken for granted by deliberative democratic scholars. I remedy this by offering a theoretical account of the importance of willingness—especially under conditions of diversity. This is supplemented with an empirical examination of willingness through a survey of the students at the University of British Columbia. While there is an overall willingness for participation in a deliberation, there are differences in specific demographic groups and across particular issues. In other words, there seems to be evidence that there is some unwillingness to engage in deliberations with those with whom one disagrees on topics that touch upon and challenge one’s identity. Moreover, in examining capacity, I developed at the concept of deliberative capital—the by-product of investments (i.e. instances of respect or attempts at empathy) and easily threatened by divestments (i.e. instances of disrespect or ignoring/attacking others). Early, self-interested, investments contribute to the establishment of an expectation of reciprocity within deliberation. I further developed and, through deliberative experiments and pre/post deliberation surveys, tested the potency of facilitative treatments aimed at encouraging investments and discouraging divestments under conditions of cultural and religious diversity. Deliberative worth exercises (getting participants to rate each other based their investments/divestments choosing the best deliberators of each round) were shown to be successful at increasing investments in empathy, respect, productive dialogue, and sincerity. Simulated representation (getting participants to switch places literally by learning, presenting, defending each other’s views for a portion of deliberation) was shown to be effective in increasing investments in reason-giving, productive dialogue, reflection on and incorporation of the views of others, and respect. Facilitative treatments were also able to reduce the divestments made by men and non-visible minorities who were responsible for a significant majority of divestments under control conditions.

View record

Postcolonial citizenship : reconceiving authority and belonging in settler societies (2016)

In Postcolonial Citizenship: Reconceiving Authority and Belonging in Settler Societies I argue that a key undertheorized barrier to the self-determination of Indigenous peoples in Canada is a conceptual one that effectively (and often incorrectly) transforms claims related to self-determination into claims for some form of differentiated citizenship within the Canadian state. I argue that this conceptual disconnect should be understood as a conflict between competing conceptions of citizenship and, in response, I have proposed an analytical framework (Chapter 2) that serves to highlight how community and authority stand in a recursive relationship with each other to comprise the referent for citizenship. Further, I have argued that in contexts of settler colonialism, the underlying settler colonial ideology functions to impose a colonial referent that subordinates any conception of citizenship to an underlying and undertheorized commitment to territoriality or the modern spatial strategy to control resources and people by controlling geographical area. As an undertheorized foundation for theories of citizenship, territoriality imposes relationships of domination—first between humans and land (including animals, rocks, rivers, trees, etc.) and subsequently between humans and their political authorities. Chapters 3 and 4 describe how the initial anthropocentric domination of land through the imposition of territorial boundaries undermines the emancipatory narratives of canonical (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau) and contemporary (Taylor, Kymlicka, Tully) theories of citizenship. In Chapter 5, I argue that the domination that is inherent in territorial frameworks is especially poignant for Indigenous peoples who do not endorse the Western philosophical foundations that enable domination. In addition, I have sought to articulate an alternative referent by drawing on critical Indigenist thought in order to provide a clearer picture of the kinds Indigenist alternative conceptions of citizenship that are foreclosed by an imposition of territorial domination. I conclude in Chapter 6 by outlining a conception of postcolonial citizenship that emerges when an Indigenist view of citizenship like the one presented in Chapter 5 confronts settler colonialism and how this confrontation ought to inform strategies for reconciliation.

View record

The politics of contentious proximity (2016)

How do diverse populations negotiate the terms according to which they live together within the shifting confines of urban spaces? How do these negotiations impact the social relations and hierarchies shaping daily living in cities? This dissertation explo res two cases of localized collective action in Vancouver, Canada. It argues that these actions exemplify a particular form of political contestation: the politics of contentious proximity. Both cases involve groups of urban residents who, in response to what they conceive as the incursion of new demographic groups and physical forms in “their” areas of the city, deploy representations of the identities associated with different types of people and places as a political tool. These groups frame themselves, their political adversaries and the relations of proximity that exist between them in specific, strategic terms. They do so both to establish themselves as legitimate political actors— actors with a right to a voice in determining the shape of the places in which they dwell—and to assert their entitlement to material and symbolic resources. This dissertation traces the representational strategies involved in both cases and the ways these strategies operate as processes of social construction. Further, it shows that the conceptualization and exploration of this politics has both practical and theoretical significance. It offers insight into the tactics residents use to respond to the changing demographic and physical forms of their cities, and, into the social and spatial exclusions on which these tactics are predicated. Moreover, it also makes two significant theoretical contributions. First, the politics of contentious proximity provides an alternative to two dominant lenses used to analyze urban contestation: NIMBY (not in my backyard) and ‘urban social movements’. Second, it contributes to the study of identity within political theory by suggesting an expanded conception of identity politics. It adds to our understanding of the political phenomenon of “identity”, not conceived as some deep primordial aspect of one’s individual being, as it is commonly understood, but as something actors employ and deploy, for particular and, in the cases of the actions this dissertation explores, localized, political purposes within neighbourhoods.

View record

Shattering glass boxes : museums and Dene resurgence against the colonial politics of recognition (2015)

In aiming to dispossess Indigenous peoples from their land and destroy their cultures, settler colonialism increasingly operates by “recognizing” and appropriating Indigenous identities into dominant national narratives. However, Indigenous peoples globally have found numerous ways to unsettle colonial powers, including claiming and reclaiming cultural practices in formerly colonial institutions such as museums. This dissertation examines the role of museums in perpetuating and opposing settler colonialism in Canada. First, I critique museums as forwarding settler colonial narrative and material violence against Indigenous peoples. Second, I examine the ways that Indigenous peoples have been engaging in museum spaces in order to “turn away” from the colonial politics of recognition. This dissertation engages with literature in political theory, critical museum studies, Indigenous political thought, and the colonial politics of recognition. In the first two chapters I examine three logics of settler colonialism: disappearance, appropriation and obfuscation. I put this theoretical framework in conversation with three case studies. I look at the 1988 exhibition “The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples” to examine the turn towards the settler colonial politics of recognition. The second case study, a multi-sited exhibition called “De T’a Hoti Ts’eeda: We live securely by the land” (Yellowknife and Ottawa) and “Extremes: Life in Subarctic Canada,” (Edinburgh) is used to think through multiple experiences of collaborative exhibition. The third case study is the “Gwich’in Caribou Skin Clothing Project” (2000-2003), exemplifying the role of knowledge repatriation projects for supporting Indigenous decolonial resurgence. The final two chapters of the dissertation examine how Indigenous peoples relationships with museums counter the logics of settler colonialism. I use the collection of Athabaskan Dene objects at the National Museums Scotland (Edinburgh) and the “nation-to-nation” relationship established between the Tłı̨chǫ Government and the museum as exemplary of relationships exogenous to settler colonial domination. Second, drawing on Hegel’s master/slave dialectic I offer a theory of “labour against recognition,” where the process of making objects is generative of relationships that simultaneously turn away from the colonial politics of recognition and foster a decolonial politics of Indigenous resurgence.

View record

Performing democracy : artistic engagements of identity/difference (2012)

With growing acknowledgment within critical democratic theory that formal inclusion is not enough to guarantee real participation in democratic practice, particularly in the context of deep cultural diversity, this dissertation examines the possibilities, challenges, and limitations of various modes of communication when they are used to engage marginalized difference. It takes as its starting point the institutional and individual demand within democracies to not only make space for diverse ways of life, or simply ‘contain enough difference’ – as if this were possible – but to remain attentive to the perpetual remainder and responsive to the changes implied by such differences. This, I argue, defines a democratic ethos: a care for difference and the receptive generosity such care requires. With democratic engagement defined in these terms, I first analyze and critique the ways declarative modes of communication conventionally used in democratic engagement influence and limit both how identity/difference can be communicated, and the forms of civic engagement that emerge as a result. Second, I investigate alternatives to declarative language, specifically the evocative forms of communication used within the performing arts. Using three case studies from South Africa and Canada in which dance and theatre were used to represent marginalized positions regarding race, gender, homelessness, and mental health, my research isolates key aesthetic resources for fostering greater inclusion of marginalized identity/difference. In the process, this research reveals and analyzes effective and as-yet largely overlooked forms of democratic engagement, and brings new insights into how identity and difference can be communicated and coalitions may be formed beyond the static forms of identity politics present in certain kinds of political thought and practice. Ultimately, this project is an interdisciplinary intervention in a disciplinary discourse regarding what counts as available to our political thinking, to develop the means to broaden political inclusion as well as the tools with which to better represent and engage social difference with the attentiveness a democratic ethos demands. In short, this dissertation asks the question, can the performative arts facilitate engagement across difference in ways that a democratic ethos demands?

View record

Indiscipline, punishment, gender and race : examining Discipline and Punish in the context of the prison systems of the United States, and England and Wales (2011)

This dissertation explores how the changing philosophy and practices of criminal punishment in the United States, England and Wales reflect broader techniques and relations of power in these societies. Two questions motivate this research: firstly, the extent to which Michel Foucault’s account of power and the prison is applicable now; and secondly, whether Foucault's later work provides an adequate conceptual framework for theorizing the aspects of power that he either overlooks or inadequately addresses in Discipline and Punish. I identify three trends in criminal justice over recent decades that challenge Foucault's account of penality: sharply rising incarceration rates, prison privatization, and the racialized and gendered nature of prison populations. I argue that although Foucault's concept of disciplinary power remains applicable, a fuller understanding of contemporary penality requires an analysis of how race and gender are constituted through biopower, and of how neoliberalism has shaped penal policy and contributed to greater socioeconomic inequality.Although I conclude that Foucault's theorization of power and the prison in Discipline and Punish is inadequate in light of the racialized and gendered nature of power relations in both historical and contemporary criminal justice systems, I draw on his later work to re-theorize power and inequality. I argue that Foucault's analysis of sex, sexuality, and race provides a valuable conceptual framework that generates important insights, particularly through the concepts of biopower and state racism. However, I critique aspects of Foucault's later work, arguing that his analysis of race is inattentive to the inter-relation of race, class and capitalism; that his analysis of sex and sexuality overlooks the question of gender; and that his account of neoliberalism is more descriptive than analytical. I therefore combine the conceptual framework provided by Foucault with insights from feminist theory, queer theory and critical race theory to show how racialized, gendered and sexed identities become constituted within institutions such as the prison. My conclusion is that criminal justice and prison systems serve to construct and reinforce racialized and gendered identities, and thereby contribute to racialized and gendered inequalities that extend far beyond the prison system.

View record

The neoliberal state and multiculturalism : the need for democratic accountability (2008)

This project outlines the existence of neoliberal multiculturalism and identifies the implications and limitations of its practice. Neoliberal multiculturalism involves the institutionalization of group autonomy by the state to download responsibility to jurisdictions that have historically lacked sufficient fiscal capacity and have been hampered by colonialism in the development of the political capacity necessary to fully meet the requirements entailed by the devolution. At the same time, this practice releases the formerly responsible jurisdiction from the political burden of the policy area(s) despite its continued influence and effect. As demonstrated by my analysis of the Indigenous child welfare devolution that has occurred recently in Manitoba, neoliberal multiculturalism therefore involves a certain kind of “privatization”—that is, it involves the appearance of state distance from said policy area. This practice problematizes the traceability of power and decision making while at the same time it co-opts and in many ways neutralizes demands from critics of the state by giving the appearance of state concession to these demands.In response to the dangers of neoliberal multiculturalism, I situate multiculturalism in a robustly political model of democratic multi-nationalism (characterized by both agonism and deliberation) in order to combat multiculturalism’s tendency simply to rationalize “privatization” and to enhance democratic accountability. My approach goes beyond dominant constructions of group autonomy through group rights by emphasizing that autonomy is a relational political practice rather than a resource distributed by a benevolent state. Building on my analysis of Indigenous autonomy and the unique challenges that it presents for traditional democratic practices, I outline a contextually sensitive, case-specific employment of what I term “democratic multi-nationalism”. This approach conceives of Indigenous issues as inherently political in nature, as opposed to culturally defined and constituted, and therefore better meets the challenges of the colonial legacy and context of deep difference in which Indigenous-state relations take place today.

View record

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Survival of the misfits : dependency care as a site for political representation (2014)

From physicians advising families to pull the plug on the to-be-disabled, to the eugenics movement and sterilization laws, at the core of threats to the existence of dependents with severe disability are narratives of tragedy and misfittedness. Through this horizon, the embodiment of difference is ostracised as deviancy or deficiency and dependents living with severe disability are least recognizable as political subjects due to their structural positioning--casting relations of care to the margins of public accountability. What increases the risk of death, violence or injury is not the dependencies or corporeal embodiment of individuals with severe disability, but rather the lack of institutional support for relations of care--their primary means to sustenance. The multi-dimensional practice of care, as it arises from dependency and corporeal vulnerability, is a political resource through which dependents with severe disability can exercise a greater degree of authorship and self-definition in the democratic claims-making process. Central to this task is mapping the alignment between the values of attentiveness and responsiveness, at the heart of the ethics of care, and what democratic representation draws its legitimacy from: proximity and attention to the particularity of the represented. The shared perspective between dependents and dependency workers, looking out from a dependency relation, when mobilized in the process of representation, paves way for the empowerment of the dependent because it increases not only his self-esteem as an individual, but also, the performance of institutions of care--shielding dependents from the differential distribution of precarity. The process of representation, as exercised through the activity of care, must be as fluid as the move from wheelchair, to walker, to cane, to his one's own legs—whatever the shifts in capacities may be for the dependent, the dependency worker adjusts her care through attentiveness. This requires reconciling the politics of presence with the physical (the corporeal situation of the political subject): designing institutions in a way maintains an ever-present, ear to the ground, process of representation between the representative and the represented, which is also, fine-tuned to the particularity of the individual's structural positioning, the changing human body, perspectives etc.

View record

In/visibility of identities and identity politics : the case of invisible disabilities (2010)

A discussion of in/visibility of identity markers might provide the opportunity to understand how identities operate and to identify the problems overlooked by politics of identity. Focusing on the question of in/visibility means tackling an issue which is already at play, but often overlooked. The following paper investigates how people manage their non visible markers and invisible identities based on benefits and social stigma and suggests that bringing the locus of identity politics to visibility and invisibility can highlight the discussion of its restrictiveness and imprisoning nature, while providing an analysis of why being defined under different identity categories might affect personal experiences.

View record


Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations


If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.