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Dr. Vasanthi Venkatesh is Associate Professor in Law, Land, and Local Economies at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law. Her research focuses on labour migration, immigration and citizenship law, law and social movements, racialisation and discrimination, and comparative law.
Event details of Legal Exceptionalism in a Racial Capitalist Order: Temporary Foreign Worker Programs in Agriculture from a Historical and Comparative Perspective
16 October 2023
15:30 -17:00


Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) programs are a paradigm of the postcolonial continuation of colonial dynamics, where wealth accumulation is facilitated through the production of racialized hierarchies and immigration status. Workers from the Global South and/or regions marked with historical legacies of colonisation and racialization (like Central and Eastern Europeans in Western Europe) provide a temporally mobile, cheap, exploitable workforce that is simultaneously responsive to both economic vicissitudes and anti-migration discourse. “Palliative imperialism”, a concept that has been used in the context of foreign aid, also finds expression in these programs and is of particular relevance to countries like Netherlands and Canada, where global dominance in agriculture is maintained while appearing benevolent. Temporary foreign worker programs are often marketed as a way for employers to “help” migrant workers and their home countries, when in reality they serve the interests of the host country's agricultural industry and reinforce global economic inequality.

The programs in agriculture are rooted in the legacies of indentureship, plantation and other forms of coerced racialized labour. These legacies find expression in the system of legal exceptionalism–– the legal exemptions and loopholes favouring agricultural producers while reducing  power of migrant workers–– that pervades agriculture production in most countries, from Canada to the Netherlands. 

The exemption of agriculture from several employment laws along with other forms of subsidies epitomizes the way in which agricultural exceptionalism is maintained by the state. But there are also less obvious mechanisms seen in the law such as contract interpretation, constructions of consent and coercion, racialized discourses of deservingness and beneficence, technologies of production and surveillance, to name just a few. These can be traced back to the colonial histories of the control and use of labour migration across regions. This presentation will attempt to show some of these connections and similarities in the production of legal exceptions in the agricultural sector across time and geography.


Dr. Vasanthi Venkatesh is Associate Professor in Law, Land, and Local Economies at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law. Her research focuses on labour migration, immigration and citizenship law, law and social movements, racialisation and discrimination, and comparative law. Her expertise lies in the interdisciplinary study of law within its political, economic, global, and historical contexts. It is informed by critical class, race, and anti-colonial scholarship and uses empirical (qualitative and quantitative), comparative, and historical methods. Her research examines how power and privilege is produced in legal doctrines and systems and also how macro-level transnational phenomena (geopolitics, world economy, migration, neocolonialism) impact material realities at the community level; and importantly, how community-level acts of resistance can help to reimagine novel legal and political formations.