Renisa Mawani

Professor

Research Classification

Philosophy, History and Comparative Studies

Research Interests

Colonial Legal History
critical theory
Race and Racism
Oceans and Maritime Worlds
Time and Temporality

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Research Methodology

Historical Sociology
archival research

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Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.

 

Dr. Mawani has been a steadfast supporter and a source of great inspiration. It has been her encouragement that has kept me pressing on. Thank you Dr. Mawani!

2019 Leah Keegahn (2019)

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Mar 2019)
Towards an inclusive vision of law reform and legal pluralism in Ghana (2016)

In post-colonial Ghana, some rules of customary law have been criticised as being inimical to the rule of law and to socioeconomic development. As such, customary law has been a key focus of legal reform. There has been resistance to law reform efforts, especially from communities in rural areas because the state and customary legal systems have failed to reconcile their perceptions of law and legal responsibilities. Taking these legal conflicts as its starting point, this dissertation explores the mechanisms for effective reforms of customary law in a legally plural Ghana. One key objective is to consider the types of legal reforms that might be agreeable to rural dwellers in ways that ensure compliance with state law. Drawing on legal pluralism as a guiding framework for analyzing the relationship between state and customary legal systems, and focusing on intestate succession as one concrete example, I argue that in order for legal reforms to be embraced, especially by rural dwellers, the state must adopt an inclusive vision of law reform, by modifying the machinery of law reform to meet the particular needs of its people. In the context of intestate succession, I argue that the courts should be given discretion, based on suggested guidelines, to vary the extended family’s portion of intestate property. In addition, I argue that changes to intestate law must also be accompanied by political, economic, educational and even psychological changes to the structures that frame the customary legal system. In sum, legal reform must also mean social, political and economic reform. It must also mean establishing and nurturing meaningful reciprocal relationships among legal systems and empowering people to consider engaging with and accepting opposing views, with a view to managing conflicts.

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Race states of concern : juridical publics and the localization of race in Vancouver and Chicago (2014)

In post-industrial cities, race mediates the administration of law, shaping how certain behaviors, places, and populations are regulated by state and public actors. Yet, race does not have a single juridical guise across these cities, having acquired multiple forms across urban spaces in different regional and national contexts. This dissertation examines how racial relations of power are recreated through localized discourses of crime that govern minority groups in two urban centres: African American populations in Chicago and South Asian populations in Vancouver. Through a comparative analysis of legal and media texts published on each of these populations, I illuminate the disparate racial logics, sentiments and practices that mutate through these cities’ divergent histories of urbanization, industrialization, and empire. The historical, social and political differences between Chicago and Vancouver pose methodological problems for comparisons intent on causal explanation. To consider the mutability of race across geography and population, I formulate an “awkward” mode of comparison that offers new insights into how race is materialized through the unique socio-historical conditions of urban centres. This awkward comparison reveals how racial knowledges of blackness travel across regional and national contexts, shaping how African American and South Asian populations are intelligible to legal and public actors. By examining how the homes of these populations are subject to racial practices of scrutiny and surveillance, this dissertation also highlights the gendered configurations of the family that warrant the racial exercise of law. Finally, this dissertation considers the public inquiries into police torture in Chicago and the Air India Bombing in Vancouver to illustrate how the inaction of state officials can manifest racial conditions of violence. Through each aspect of this comparison, this dissertation demonstrates how public concerns about crime can extend and intensify the racial force of law.

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At the hearth of the nation : the Woman’s Missionary Society and Victoria’s Chinese Rescue Home 1886-1923 (2012)

The Chinese Rescue Home was an important feature of Victoria's (British Columbia, Canada) moral and racial landscape. It was envisioned by Methodist missionaries and later the Women's Methodist Missionary Society (WMS) to be a sanctuary for Chinese and Japanese women who were thought to be prostitutes or slave girls or who were believed to be at risk of falling into these roles. Despite its significance to British Columbian and Canadian history, there has yet to be a sustained and systematic study of the Home. Using a range of archival sources including WMS reports, newspapers, and legal cases, this dissertation offers an in-depth and empirical case study of the Chinese Rescue Home. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach and drawing from theoretical and methodological developments in sociology, history, and geography, I use the concept of domesticity to examine the complex, contradictory, and contentious relationships between gender, race, and religion. While white women derived their own inclusion in the nation by policing the boundaries of race and reimagining the places of Chinese and Japanese women, they did so by including these women as part of the 'Christian family.' Therefore, this dissertation contributes to the Canadian literatures on Chinese and Japanese immigration by foregrounding the ways in which racial power operated through both inclusion and exclusion. Domesticity, here, was central to the shaping of not only the types of relationships that were permitted, but also the spaces in which they took place.

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Re(writing) the rule of law : text and expertise in humanitarian intervention (2012)

This dissertation examines humanitarian intervention through the texts and experts of human rights field work in inter-governmental organization (IGO) missions in conflict and post-conflict situations. Humanitarian intervention, understood as coercive collective intervention by the ‘international community’ against a state to protect the population(s) within that state, is one of the most challenging and controversial issues in international law and policy today. Humanitarian intervention involves the exercise of geo-political and institutional power, and it requires the massive mobilization of personnel and resources from around the world in complex and on-going projects of peacekeeping and nation building. Although humanitarian intervention is largely justified in the name of human rights and the rule of law, there has been little empirical study of the institutions and individuals conducting the work of human rights and the rule of law in contexts of intervention. Human rights field officers are primary actors as translators, instructors, advocates and practitioners of the rule of law in the field of humanitarian intervention.This research uses an approach of Institutional Ethnography, informed by Actor-Network Theory, to understand the dynamics of human rights field work in IGO field missions. Its approach is to trace relations of power in humanitarian intervention through an empirical investigation into how law is constituted, deployed, adapted, and redefined in human rights field work. This project relies upon in-depth interviews with human rights field officers and analysis of three central categories of texts – international treaties, UN Security Council resolutions, and human rights field reports. This research examines law in the everyday context, but in humanitarian intervention that context is an exceptional one, and both law and expertise take on particular significance in the field. The texts of law cross temporal and spatial scales to establish normative frameworks, create institutions, deploy personnel, and assess outcomes. The experts deployed to the field are uniquely empowered as impartial outsiders, even as they are connected to and imbricated in larger networks of rule. Close consideration of the texts of international law and the everyday work of field officers offers important insights into this emerging exercise of institutional and global governance.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010-2017)
Conceptualizing the contemporary monster (2011)

Through the challenges of Donna Haraway and Giorgio Agamben to Michel Foucault's theory of biopolitics I develop a conceptual frame for thinking about the sociological role of monsters in modern society. I argue that Foucault's position on the concept of monsters submerges expressions of liminality and exclusion from western society which are based on the mistaken narrative of how static natural laws and dynamic socio-political laws define the individual. Underneath the contemporary iterations of inclusive abnormality and expressions of repressed human desires, monsters illuminate the contradictory "nature" of such laws, and provide the form in which to debate who – or what – is allowed within the definition of a human individual and, therefore, within the human population.

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Murder in the park : civic identity-making and space in Vancouver (2011)

Stanley Park is well known in Vancouver, Canada, and globally as a site of nature in the city. Over the course of its history, this image of the park as healthy, natural, and safe has been frequently disrupted by violent and/or destructive incidents. Physical and sexual attacks, both random and calculated, have routinely occurred in the park and have resulted in frenzied media, civic, and political responses. These events unsettle Stanley Park’s identity, and as a result, multiple actors in Vancouver perform cultural work to reinvent and/or restore the Park’s meaning vis-à-vis extreme disruptions of violence. By examining the textual records of two exemplary incidents of violent disruption in the park – the 2001 queer-bashing murder of Aaron Webster and the 1992 beating and killing of six Chilean flamingos in the Park zoo – I ask: How is Stanley Park’s identity created, managed, and communicated to Vancouver residents and to visitors and tourists? How are belonging, citizenship, power, and morality implicated in this cultural work? This thesis argues that both the murder of Aaron Webster and the flamingo killings have profound implications for how we understand Stanley Park. Webster’s death and the ensuing public response demarcated rightful queer ownership of the space and at the same time provided a platform for public scrutiny and administration of queer sexuality. The flamingo murders were leveraged to bring Stanley Park ‘back’ to its ‘natural’ state, upholding a national narrative about the park as an untouched wilderness and further erasing the histories and ongoing realities of colonialism. The discourses that emerged in response to each event went well beyond the cases at hand to produce important meanings about civic identity and who belongs and does not belong in Vancouver.

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