What I study

My research is broadly concerned with citizenship and borders as key sites in the production of social inequality across gender, race, and immigration status.

I focus on the role that social activists play in shaping citizenship through political contestations over rights and membership. These political contestations extend across a range of social issues, including immigration detention, deportation, and violence against women. 

Using critical qualitative research methods, I analyze the discursive strategies and collective practices that activists use to address social problems and to imagine social change. My work draws attention to the structural constraints and unintended consequences of advocacy work, in order to think critically about how activism may be implicated in the reproduction of social inequality.

As a feminist scholar committed to social justice research, my work both extends and problematizes notions of citizenship as an emancipatory or aspirational project. My research program thus pays particular attention to counter-hegemonic and/or emerging ideas about how rights and membership might be organized differently in response to a changing world.

Research Projects

Citizenship, Borders & Illegality

My postdoctoral research studies social activism in response to immigration detention in Canada. I focus on contestations over state practices of border control – such as who should or should not be detained, how they should be detained, and for how long – in order to understand the boundary-making work that activists perform through their anti-detention advocacy efforts. I ask how activists’ efforts both shape and are shaped by gendered and racialized understandings of national membership. 

My doctoral research investigated activism in response to border enforcement within schools and women’s shelters in Toronto between 2006 to 2015. My project showed postnational understandings of citizenship being mobilized by anti-border activists, which drew important attention to the structural violence produced through deportation practices as well as their gendered and racializing effects. The findings were significant given that postnationalism as a field of study has received little attention since the theory first emerged in the 1990s.

Related Work:

Abji, Salina. 2013. “Post-nationalism re-considered: a case study of the ‘No One Is Illegal’ movement in Canada.” Citizenship Studies, 17 (3-4): 322-338.

Abji, Salina. 2016. “‘Because Deportation is Violence Against Women’: on the Politics of State Responsibility and Women’s Human Rights.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 23 (4): 483-507. doi: 10.1093/sp/jxw004

“Unjust Detentions: How do Social Movements and the State produce Borders of Belonging and Exclusion?” Paper presented at the CINETS Crimmigration conference. Baltimore, Oct 7, 2016.

“Fear in the Shelter: Gender, Illegality, and the Securitization of Women’s Shelters in Canada.” Invited paper to be presented at the American Sociological Association conference. Regional Spotlight Session on Social Categories, Inequality and the State: A View from Canada to the United States and Beyond. Forthcoming, Montreal, August 12-15, 2017. 

Gendered & Racialized Violence

Violence Against Women (VAW) is a citizenship issue: acts of violence fundamentally undermine a person’s bodily integrity and personhood, as well as their right to dignity, security, and freedom from discrimination. Violence Against Women is also shaped by race, culture, religion, and nation. Intersecting forms of inequality may intensify risks of experiencing it, and may also affect how such acts are interpreted and/or addressed by state and non-state actors.

Working collaboratively with scholars and community organizations in Toronto, I have conducted research into the role of service providers and advocates in addressing gendered and racialized violence among South Asian communities of the Greater Toronto Area. Our research has shown that dominant ideas about culture, race, and religion not only impact the provision of services, but also obscure the structural effects of immigration policies on women’s individual experiences of violence. 

In addition to my work on violence against women, I have also produced sole-authored work on the politics of gender, race, and nation across multiple sites, from sanctuary cities and international beauty pageants, to media education programs for ‘tween’ girls aged 10-13.

Related Work:

Korteweg, Anna C., Salina Abji, Lisa Barnoff, and Deepa Mattoo. 2013. “Citizenship, Culture, and Violence Against Women: social service provision in the South Asian communities of the Greater Toronto Area.” CERIS Research Report. Access PDF on-line

“From Sanctuary to Solidarity: The Gendered and Racialized Politics of Designing a City Without Borders.” Paper to be presented at the Canadian Sociological Association conference. Ryerson University, Toronto, May 31, 2017.

“‘Green’ Muslims in Red Bikinis: Environmental Racism and the Miss Earth beauty pageant.” Sole-authored manuscript submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.  

Abji, Salina. 2007. “Springing Up a Revolution: media education for tweens” in Re-Thinking Media Education: critical pedagogy and identity politics. Anita Nowak, Sue Abel and Karen Ross (ed.), Hampton Press, pp. 113-130.