Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West

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University of California Press, 2011 - History - 347 pages
“Based on virtuoso research interlaced with a lucid and compelling analysis, Stranger Intimacy challenges the assumptions at the heart of most social history. Refusing to separate political economy, state practices, racialization, and the regulation of domesticity and sexuality, Nayan Shah reads legal and bureaucratic archives for stories of non-normative sociality among multi-racial transient migrants in the early twentieth century. With this treasure trove, he launches a stunning array of arguments against the stabilizing tropes of states and historians, and for an expansive vision of democratic life teeming under the radar of regulation and exclusion. This is a breathtaking book.”

—Lisa Duggan, author of The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics and the Attack on Democracy

“With admirable historical rigor, Stranger Intimacy brings new vitality and intense insight to studies of race, nation, and sexuality. A leader in the field, Nayan Shah brilliantly unsettles official attempts to pin down migrants, to fix them in place in nuclear family households, within ‘proper’ heterosexual constraints. Charting the contested terrains of western North America a century ago, with their complex border crossings, couplings, and collectives, this book radically enhances understandings of estrangement and belonging today.”

—John Howard, author of Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow

“Nayan Shah's Stranger Intimacy is a precise account of the lives and labors of South Asian migrants inside a North America that was hostile to them. Drawing from an array of archival materials, Shah charts the social navigation of the migrants and shows us how they build their own worlds. The State and Business saw them as Alien and Worker; Shah restores the migrants to the intimacy of human beings.”

—Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World

Stranger Intimacies is a tremendously important book. Shah challenges pervasive patterns in scholarship that assume that the experiences of South Asians or of gays and lesbians are particular and parochial concerns of people with those embodied identities. Instead he draws on the situated knowledge and historically and socially shaped standpoints of these groups to reveal how citizenship, sexuality, and labor are always linked, how heterosexism, racism, and class rule are not aberrant departures from liberal citizenship but rather its component parts.”

—George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place

Stranger Intimacy is the definitive work that reveals, with persuasion and deep archival research, that Asian American studies requires the study of gender and sexuality. Tracking the movements of Indians to North America in the early twentieth century, it shows us how a diverse set of laws produced immigrant subjects through race, heteronormativity, and the white, nuclear family. ‘Stranger intimacy,’ in Shah’s brilliant concept, is the site of regulation, struggle, and possibility.”

—Inderpal Grewal, author of Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms


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South Asian migration routes
Passion Violence and Asserting Honor
The Canadian and U S Pacific Northwest transborder region
Policing Strangers and Borderlands
Central Vancouver Gastown and Chinatown
Rural Dependency and Intimate Tensions
The state of California
Imperial Valley California and its borders
Intimate Ties and State Legitimacy
U S Mexican borderlands
Regulating Intimacy and Immigration
Strangers to Citizenship
Estrangement and Belonging
Select Bibliography

ca 1900s
Legal Borderlands of Age and Gender

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About the author (2011)

Nayan Shah is Professor and Chair of the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and the author of Contagious Divides (UC Press).

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