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Research Seminar

Location: H5.45

Dr. Sita Balani (King's College London) and Dr. Sivamohan Valluvan (University of Warwick)

‘Abuse by consent’: the intimate violence of racialisation

In 1979, a 35-year-old Indian woman coming to the UK to join her fiancé was stopped at Heathrow airport and subjected to a ‘virginity test’ – an invasive physical examination to ‘check’ she was a virgin and, therefore, a ‘legitimate’ bride. When the news broke, it emerged that ‘virginity tests’ were being conducted in British High Commissions across South Asia, as well as at the border at Heathrow airport. Asian women were assumed to be virgins until married and this assumption, rooted in colonial governance, was built into immigration policy, upheld by the enmeshment of bureaucracy and pseudo-science that one woman subjected to a ‘virginity test’ described as ‘abuse by consent.’ In these acts of routine violence, we can catch a glimpse of the central role of sexuality in how Asians in Britain are racialised.

As this example indicates, the legal, discursive, and experiential dimensions of sexual life – of being gendered, of desire, of romantic relationships, of family – cannot be viewed in isolation from race. I will offer a partial genealogy of the pivotal function of sexuality in the modern development of race, tracing the continuities and disjunctures between colonial and postcolonial governance. I will use this approach to suggest that, rather than an ‘intersectional’ approach to the relationship between race, gender, and sexuality, we need to consider the co-constitution of these categories as the basis for an assessment of state power.


Sita Balani is a lecturer in contemporary literature and culture at King's College London. In her research and teaching, she explores the relationship between imperialism and identity in contemporary Britain. Her work has appeared in Boundless, Feminist Review, Identity Theory, Open Democracy, the Verso blog, and Vice.


Nationalism and left dilemmas?

This talk will explore some of the theoretical premises by which to make sense of nationalism’s strange resilience. Resisting the tendency to read today’s nationalism as only reflex, the discussion will probe the longstanding ability of nationalism to monopolize the terrain of political community and to filter its attendant political anxieties. Central to this argument is the distinctive ideological cacophony – as spanning the liberal, conservative, neoliberal and left spectrum – that collectively overdetermines the appeal of today’s nationalism and its constitutive racial demons. Particular attention will be given here to the complicity of certain left factions and sensibilities. Not only is this an abject betrayal of working class struggle as imagined along anti-racist and cosmopolitan terms, but the opportunist left cannot even hope to gain on this terrain – as it is the political right that retains the more well-trained authority to always triumph if offered these terms. Some concluding remarks however about the threat nationalism poses to the right too will also be considered – whereby the right’s over-investment in nationalist rupture has unmoored it partially from a more affirmative defence of capitalist virtue and uplift. The fissures that therein arise are I argue conducive to a left revival, even if currently chastened, providing it can steer clear of the call for ‘progressive patriotism’ and its false temptations.


Sivamohan Valluvan is Assistant Professor in Sociology at the University of Warwick. His Clamour of Nationalism was recently published with Manchester University Press.

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