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Translating the Hijra: The Symbolic Reconstruction of the British Empire in India Open Access


Other title
Hijra; imperialism; 19th-century South Asia; colonial law; eunuchs
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Gannon, Shane
Supervisor and department
Mookerjea, Sourayan (Sociology)
Samson, Jane (History and Classics)
Thompson, Guy (History and Classics)
Examining committee member and department
Banerjee, Sikata (Women's Studies)
Haan, Michael (Sociology)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation examines the relationships between citizenship and sexuality and gender in imperial formations, through an archaeology/genealogy of the subject position of those classified as the hijra. Combining Lacan's symbolic order with Foucault's historic a priori in order to understand empire, this project examines two main questions: how were sexuality and gender -- notably manifest in the subject position of the hijra -- used as forms of political control in colonial India; and how transformations in empire were produced through changing representations of the hijra. Consequently, the hijra represent a key point -- or, in the words of Lacan, le point de capiton -- in the anchoring of a field of meaning that enabled colonial governance in both a diachronic and synchronic fashion; in other words, the figure of the hijra was translated by the colonial writers in such a way as to facilitate the creation of an ideology that privileged British understandings of sexuality and masculinity, not to mention civility, modernity, and, to a degree, religiosity, establishing British authority in the region. This project consists of a textual analysis of nineteenth-century British documents and writings, especially historical records, such as ethnographies, translations, census information, official reports, intra-government communications, and legal documents from the late eighteenth through early twentieth centuries, with a focus on the nineteenth. Through an examination of these sources, this dissertation explores how this group was translated by the colonial authorities; that is, it queries the conditions under which they were represented as a group that was constituted by those who were defined by sexual and gendered characteristics -- eunuchs, hermaphrodites, and impotent men.
License granted by Shane Gannon ( on 2009-06-12T19:27:59Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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File title: The term hijra:
File author: Shane Gannon
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