Do We Belong Here? The Evolution and Expression of Incidental Spaces of Belonging for Toronto’s Chinese Diaspora


The Chinese diaspora of immigrant cities have historically created spaces of enclosed cultural spheres for collective survival and adaptation and this thesis examines those of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. Such spaces are often called “ethnic enclaves”, characterized by their homogenized demographic and corresponding services, spaces, and activities specific to those backgrounds. The subject of this thesis is an exploration of incidental spaces of belonging in these enclaves that were not explicitly built or programmed for building a sense of belonging but exist as such nonetheless because of what they contain. In a method of analysis analogous to the approaches taken by Interboro in The Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion and by Huda Tayob in her work in critical drawing, I examine the role of spaces, such as Chinese malls and plazas, private establishments, and streets of Chinatowns, and uncover how scales of belonging are developed through architecture, spatial planning, sign and language, and networks.

As transmigration and transnational economies proliferate due to globalization, the character of these cultural spaces of belonging have shifted since the first diaspora in the nineteenth century – strengthening the sense of belonging in some ways and eroding it in others. This has led to the rise of impermeable spaces, which import Chinese culture, alongside permeable spaces that export culture. As Sara Ahmed has argued, “it is the uncommon estrangement of migration itself that allows migrant subjects to remake what it is they might yet have in common”. This thesis explores these incidental spaces of belonging for Toronto’s Chinese diaspora and examines how physical, social, and temporal factors affect their permeability through field research, photography, and written analysis.

The examining committee is as follows:
Supervisor: Tara Bissett
Committee member: Fiona Lim Tung
Internal-external reader: Val Rynnimeri
External: Phat Le

The defence examination will take place:
Wednesday, May 8, 2024, 1:00 p.m.
In person, in the Library seminar space.
A copy of the thesis is available for perusal in ARC 2106A.