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A Second Skin - Embodied Intersectionality, Transnationalism and Narratives

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  ‘ A second skin ’ : Embodied intersectionality, transnationalism and narrativesof identity and belonging among Muslim women in Britain Heidi Sa 󿬁 a Mirza ⁎ Institute of Education, University of London, UK  a r t i c l e i n f o s y n o p s i s Available online 20 December 2012  The paper examines the narratives of three professional transnational Muslim women of Turkish,PakistaniandIndianheritagelivingandworkinginBritain.Developingapostcolonialblackfeministframework of embodied intersectionality, the analysis explores ways in which the regulatorydiscursive power to  ‘ name ’  the  ‘ Muslim woman ’  in the  ‘ West ’  as either dangerous or oppressed islivedoutonandwithinthebody.Embodiedpracticessuchaschoosingtowearthehijab,whichonewoman described as a  ‘ second skin ’ , allows an insight into the ways in which the women draw ontheir subjecthood and inner sense of self to negotiate the affective  ‘ postcolonial disjunctures ’  of racism and Islamophobia which framed their everyday lives. Embodied intersectionality as afeminist critical theory of race and racism shows how gendered and raced representation ispowerfully written on and experienced within the body, and how Muslim women's agencychallenges and transforms hegemonic discourses of race, gender and religion in transnationaldiasporic spaces.© 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Introduction: Muslimwomen,migrationandIslamophobia In this article I explore how the intersection of race, genderand religion is written on and experienced within the body.Drawing on the black feminist framework of   ‘ embodiedintersectionality ’  the paper examines the narratives of threeprofessional transnational Muslim women of Turkish, Pakistaniand Indian heritage living and working in Britain. As an Indo-CaribbeanwomanofMuslimheritagealsolivingandworkinginBritain,Iamparticularlyinterestedinhowtheinternalsubjectiveworld of transnational professional Muslim women is producedby and performed through the external affective Islamophobicdiscourses that circulate in the West. I explore how Muslimwomenwhoareexternallyseenasembodyinga ‘ dangerous ’ or ‘ oppressed ’  religious gendered identity subjectively  ‘ live out ’ what it means to be a  ‘ Muslim woman ’  when working andliving in a transnational context. I draw on three professionalMuslim women's narratives of   ‘ self  ’  and survival to revealmultiple layers of power, both seen and unseen in the makingofthefemaleMuslim ‘ self  ’ .InparticularIfocusonherreligious,racial and ethnic identity asmanifested through her subjectiveexpressions of faith, home and belonging. The women, whowere of Pakistani, Indian and Turkish heritage are part of thetransnational educated mobile classes whose families havemoved from South Asia and the Middle East to study and workin Europe  —  and as in these women's cases, in transglobalindustries such as universities and international NGOs.Stuart Hall talks of the importance of analysing theeconomic, political and cultural modalities of historicallyspecific forms and sites when attempting to understand postwar global migrancy. He argues that the transformations,displacements and condensations of a particular historicmoment define new emergent  ‘ diasporic ’  spaces (Hall, 2012).ThejourneysoftheMuslimwomentoBritaincomeatatimeof growing national concern over the Muslim presence in the ‘ West ’  in general, and in Britain in particular. There are now 3generationsof Britishborn Muslim-British whomake up 4.2%of the British population (BRIN, 2010). With a population growthrate among Muslims purported to be ten times faster than therest of the British society, there has been a hysterical reaction inthe press about Muslims over-running Britain signalled by themost popular name of new borns in Britain being  ‘ Mohammed ’ (Doyle, 2010). Women's Studies International Forum 36 (2013) 5 – 15 ⁎  Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, LondonWC1H OAL.0277-5395/$  –  see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect Women's Studies International Forum  journal homepage:  This raises the question,  ‘ how does anti-Islamic hostility playout on the Muslim female body in post colonial Britain?  ‘ Sincethe 2001bombing of the Twin Towers on 9/11inNew York andmore recently the 2005 7/7 bombings by young British Muslimmen in London there has been an overwhelming preoccupationwith the embodied Muslim women in British public spaces(Meetoo & Mirza, 2007). In particular the Muslim womanwearingtheveilhaspreoccupiedthemediaandtheyfaceopenlyhostile reactions in a climate of State sanctioned genderedIslamophobic discrimination. The scholarly interventions of transnational postcolonial critical race feminists show how theMuslim female body has become a battlefield in the symbolicwar against Islam and the perceived Muslim enemy  ‘ within ’ ( Jiwani, 2006; Razack, 2008; Razack, Smith, & Thobani, 2010).Sara Ahmed (2003: 377) argues that discourses of fear andanxiety which have circulated since September 11th work bysecuring what is the  ‘ truth ’  about  ‘ the other ’ . She states,  ‘ Fearoperates as an affective economy of truth. Fear slides betweensigns and sticks to some bodies and not others. For example the judgementthatsomeone ‘ couldbe ’ aterroristdrawsonpastandaffective associations that stick various signs (such as Muslim,fundamentalist, terrorist) together. At the same time, fear isreproduced precisely by the threat that such bodies  ‘ may pass(us) by. ’  Such bodies become constructed as fearsome and as athreat to the very truths that are reified as  ‘ life itself  ” .In this article I ask what the consequences are for transna-tional professional Muslim women who are caught up in theIslamophobic space occupied by the postcolonial Muslimdiaspora in Britain. Muslim women who migrate to the  ‘ West ’ are at the confluence of many competing claims and counterclaims in the ensuing discourse of terror and securitizationproduced by the global threat from Islamic extremism. In theWest's ideological  ‘ war against terror ’  the  ‘ Muslim woman ’  hascometosymbolisethe ‘ barbaricMuslimother ’ inourmidst.Thisis articulated through Muslim women being pathologised asvoiceless victims of their  ‘ backward ’  communities who are inneed of   ‘ saving ’  by the enlightened  ‘ West ’  (Abu-Lughod, 2002;Zahedi,2011).Thevisibilityofpatriarchalcommunityandgroupcultural practices such as forced marriage and honour crimesconvenientlycontributetotheWestern ‘ Orientalist ’ constructionof the racialised  ‘ other's ’  barbaric customs and cultures (Said,1985).Muslimwomen'sdresshasbecomeinterchangeablewithessentialist notions of ethnicity, traditionalism and religion. Inthese constructions the veil is given a symbolic meaning fargreaterthanitsreligiousandsocialstatus.TheMuslimwomen'sprivate reasons for wearing the headscarf (hijab) or niqab(fullfaceveil) have becomepublic property,a ‘ weapon ’ usedby many different competing interests, from male politicians inFrancetowhitefeministsinBelgiumtoarguetheircasesforandagainst assimilation, multiculturalism, secularism and humanrights (Coene & Longman, 2008; Killian, 2003; Scott, 2007).HoweverastheIslamicfeministHalehAfshar(2008)poignantlypointsout,awoman'srighttoweartheveilshouldbeamatterof choice whether it be a personal, religious, or political one.As this study reveals the three transnational professionalMuslim women were bound, not by territory or nationality,but by embodied practices of contingent and reconfigured ‘ Muslimness ’  such as the wearing or not of the hijab, going tothe Mosque, eating halal food, and other acts of genderedresistance and accommodation. The notion of   ‘ embodiedintersectionality ’  which I now turn to enables an understandingofhowpowercomestobewrittenthroughandwithintheracedand sexed body. Moreover it provides a theoretical frameworkilluminating Muslim women's agency which, as the women'snarratives reveal, continually challenges and transforms hege-monic discourses of race, gender and religion. ‘ Embodied intersectionality  ’ : a conceptual framework for unpacking race, gender and religion ItcouldbearguedthattransnationalMuslimwomencomingto Britain from particular postcolonial histories, ethnicities,cultures, and nation states, are each positioned within thedominantandintersectingmodalitiesofrace,classandgenderinvery different ways. Thus in order to investigate how theintersectional dynamics of race, gender and religion shape theirethnic identity and sense of self it is important to develop aconceptual framework for analysis which looks at the situatedways racialised and gendered boundaries are produced andexperientially  ‘ lived through ’  a faith based Muslim femalesubjectivity. As an analytic framework intersectionality pro-vides a complex ontology of   ‘ really useful knowledge ’  whichhasbeenusedtosystemicallyrevealtheeverydaylivesofblackand postcolonial ethnicised women who are simultaneous-ly positioned in multiple structures of dominance andpower as gendered, raced, classed, colonized, and sexualizedothers (Mirza, 2009a). Intersectionality, a term developedby Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989, 1991) rearticulated thescholarship of black feminists such as the Combahee RiverCollective, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill Collinswho were concerned with understanding the matrix of domination in which cultural patterns of oppression are notonlyinterrelated,butareboundtogetherandinfluencedbytheintersectionalsystemsofsociety(Collins,1990:222).Itoffereda way into understanding how particular identities (i.e. blackand female) are tied to particular inequalities (i.e. violenceagainst women) in different historical times and geographicplaces (McKittirick, 2006). Moreover intersectionality enablesus to see that different dimensions of social life cannot beseparated out into discrete and pure strands. As Brah andPhoenix write,  ‘ We regard the concept of intersectionality assignifying the complex, irreducible, varied, and variable effectswhich ensue when multiple axis of differentiation  –  economic,political,cultural,psychic,subjectiveandexperiential – intersectin historically specific contexts ’  (Brah & Phoenix, 2004: 76). Inthis sense intersectionality draws our attention to the ways inwhich identities, as subject positions, are not reducible to justone or two or three or even more dimensions layered onto eachother in an additive or hierarchical way. Rather intersectionalityrefers to the converging and conterminous ways in which thedifferentiated and variable organizing logics of race, classand gender and other social divisions such as sexuality, age,disability, ethnicity, culture, religion and belief structurethe material conditions which produce economic, social andpolitical inequality in women's real lived lives.It is argued, not without controversy, that intersectionality  – as a black feminist standpoint epistemology  –  is contextual andcontingent privileging the situated knowledge of marginalisedsocial agents as they are interpellated into hegemonic social,economic and political discourses (Anthias, 2011; McCall, 2005;Nash,2008;Puar,2007;Yuval-Davis,2006).Howevertofocusonwomen's  ‘ lived lives ’  is not to privilege the unstable notion of  6  H.S. Mirza / Women's Studies International Forum 36 (2013) 5 – 15  experience (Applebaum, 2008) or sublimate the indeter-minacy of the body (Puar, 2007) when constructing atheoretical and methodological framework. It is preciselybecause intersectionality is able to knit together themacro-economic political social discourses which struc-ture inequities with a complex array of individuatedsubjectivities which by imposition, choice or desire arewritten on and lived within the body, that makes itsontological instability a powerful tool for analysis. Thenotion of embodied intersectionality as a postcolonialblack feminist critical theory of gendered racialisationuses the malleability of the concept of intersectionalityand takes it a stage further. By providing a way tomethodologically operationalise intersectionality we areable to map the effect of gendered and raced Islamophobicdiscourses as lived in and through Muslim women'sembodied subjectivities.Embodied intersectionality not only seeks to theorise thecomplexities of race, gender, class, and other  ‘ positional ’  socialdivisions as lived realities (i.e. how the women experience theworld holistically as a  ‘ Muslim, middleclass, heterosexualwoman ’ ) but also interrogates how this experience is affec-tively mediated by the body and lived through Muslim femalesubjectivity(Mirza,2009b).Thatis,itlooksathowtheexternalmateriality of their situatedness (the political, economic andsocial structures that produce inequality) is constituted,reconfigured and lived through their corporeal representation(i.e. as racialised  ‘ dangerous ’  or  ‘ oppressed ’  others). It seeks todemonstrate how intersectional  ‘ othering ’  which arises atunique historical moments (i.e. when the category  ‘ Muslimwoman ’  is invested with a particular affective and linguisticmeaning), is organized into systematic social relations andpractices.Attheintersectionofthematerialexternalworldandthe embodied interiorworld the identityof theMuslimfemalemarginal subject comes into being (Alexander & Knowles,2005). As Butler (1993) argues it is through the repetition of  normsonthesurfaceofbodiesthattheboundariesandfixityof social worlds materialise.The embodiment of power and disempowerment writtenthrough and within the sexed, raced and classed body isparticularly important if we are to understand how religiousidentityis performed, experienced and articulated through thewomen's sense of self in the context of the all consuminghegemonic racist and sexist discourses such as WesternIslamophobia and patriarchal Islamic dominance. Thus for theMuslim women in this study, their dress, religious disposition(piety),culturalattachments — suchasfood,ethnicpride,speechandstyle,shownotonlytheirethnicidentity(asperformed)buthow such embodied practices need to be understood asmeaningful signs and expressions of a reflexive female Muslimagency. The Muslim female voices in the autobiographicallyarticulated narrative interviews reveal the ways in whichregulatory discursive power and privilege are  ‘ performed ’  orexercised in the everyday material world of the sociallyconstructed  ‘ Muslim woman ’  in the  ‘ West ’ . By drawing onpersonalised embodied accounts of the Muslim women in thestudy we can reveal the processes of   ‘ being and becoming ’  agendered, raced and classed subject of discourse. The notion of  ‘ embodiedintersectionality ’ thusenablesustoseehow,throughthe articulation of their identities, Muslim women continuallyresistandrenametheregulatoryeffectsofhegemonicgendered,racedandclasseddiscoursesofinequityandsubjugationintheirdaily lives. Such resistance is played out in the subjecthood of racialised Muslim women, whose agency ultimately challengesand transcends such dominance. Methodology: mapping the intersectional narratives of Muslim women Theaimofthispaperistoexploretheembodiedintersectionof race, gender and religion and how the internal subjectiveworldoftransnationalprofessionalMuslimwomenisperformedby and produced through the external affective Islamophobicdiscourses that circulate in the West. The interviews with thethree Muslim professional women whose narratives inform thisanalysis were undertaken in 2009 as part of the larger studyfor the cognitive testing for the ethnicity boost of the UKLongitudinalHouseholdSurvey, UnderstandingSociety 1 (Nandi&Platt, 2009). For this larger study in-depth semi structuredinterviews were conducted with 13 respondents to help informthe design of the main survey questions for the ethnicity strandof the survey. The 13 interviewees were both male and female,from various ethnic heritages, such as African Caribbean,Middle-Eastern, South Asian, and European and included thethreeMuslimwomendiscussedhere.Theintervieweeswereintheir 30s, educated to at least Master's level and were inprofessional occupations or studying for a higher degree.Theinterviewswerecarriedoutbyateamoffourethnicallydiverse female interviewers including myself . 2 They wereconducted in English and adhered to the University of Essexethical codes of consent and confidentiality. The respondentswereselectedthroughtheresearchers'networksandworkplacecontacts in several universities located in cities in the south eastof England. In a 60 – 90 minute face-to-face interview with aresearcher, each interviewee was asked the same structuredquestions about their ethnic identity across several differentdimensions traditionally associated with ethnic affiliation. Thisincluded country of birth, parental country of birth, region of upbringing, language, religion and skin colour (Phinney, 1992).However to probe the salience of these domains we also askedsemi-structured questions interrogating deeper expressions of ethnicity focusing on  ‘ group belonging ’  and  ‘ sense of self  ’ . Thisincludedquestionssuchasprideinone'sheritage,importanceof ancestors, future wishes for their children, importance of foodand language, as well as core values and principles with regardto faith and belief. The interviews were recorded and thetranscripts were circulated among the team members forinterpretation and reflection. They were then thematicallycross-coded interrogating the texts for detailed subjectiveexpressionsof  ‘ groupbelonging ’ and ‘ senseofself  ’ .Theanalysisof each interviewwasundertakenby2different researchers toensure consistency and validity in mapping the variouscross-cutting dimensions of ethnic identity. 1 Understanding Society  is a world leading study of the socio-economiccircumstances and attitudes of 100,000 individuals in 40,000 Britishhouseholds. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council(ESRC) at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), Universityof Essex. See 2 TheteammembersonthisprojectwereLucindaPlatt,HeidiSa 󿬁 aMirza,AlitaNandy, and Punita Chowbey. I thank my colleagues for their kind permission touse the data and take full responsibility for the analysis developed here.7 H.S. Mirza / Women's Studies International Forum 36 (2013) 5 – 15  The narratives of the three Muslim women of Turkish,Pakistani and Indian heritage were selected for this study asthey raised interesting issues about the complexity of race,gender, religion and transnational identity pertinent to a blackfeminist analysis of embodied intersectionality. The in-depthinterviews interrogating  ‘ group belonging ’  and  ‘ sense of self  ’ brought to the fore issues of religious identity, subjectivity andthe body for Muslim women. As a transnational post colonialwoman of colour I recognised the auto-biographical storiesthey told of border-crossing, journeys of the  ‘ self  ’  and theirrelationship to the wider Muslim female diaspora. I feltcompelled to look deeper and unravel the  ‘ identity affects ’ emerging within the women's narratives. The women'snarratives emerged from the interviews rather than theinterviews consciously being set up as narrative interviews.Ludhra and Chappell (2011: 107) tell a similar story aboutreflexively reviewingtheir methodologywhentheyfound thatthe dialogic space of the traditional interview provided anemancipatory opportunity for South Asian girls to share their ‘ inner thoughts and consider their lives in a way never askedbefore ’ . While a narrative focus may capture marginalisedvoices,thereadingofanarrativeisnotaboutfindingthe ‘ truth ’ abouttheircondition,but aboutcreatingatextwhichprovidesaninsightintothediscoursesthroughwhichthesubjectmakessense of   ‘ self  ’  and their experience (Cole, 2009).  The women: sharing narratives of transnationalismand belonging  Inthisintroductionto thewomeninthestudy, theirnamesare anonymised, as are the places of work and any otheridentifiable details,suchaslocalplace names.All three womenwere highly educated professionals with strong cross-nationalaffiliations and had either dual citizenship or permission towork in the UK. Yet they all expressed a strong sense of beingrooted in their ethnic cultures and religious identity throughattachments to place, which was expressed through language,dialect, food, memories and family. Mehrunissa  is in her 30s and a lawyer from Bombay in India.She came to Britain in 2006, and works in a charitableorganisation within a university in a major city in the southeast of England. She is applying for British citizenship andlives with her husband who is also from India. She describesherself as  “…  a foreign lawyer from India ” . But she lovesliving in the city because it is like Bombay  “…  loads of people, fast … . I love buildings, tall buildings, sky scrapersand people all around, I like the crowd and noise around. ” She sees herself as a  ‘ Bombayite ’  which she says is  “…  Likeyou're from Essex but you're in the UK ” . For her, place andnation are very important to her sense of self which issimultaneously articulated, as she explains, ‘ …  Bombay it's very important because I was born and brought up and if I go somewhere then people would know  –  Oh you're from Bombay  –  not from India …  that's very important, your language,yourdialect  … butinmymindIwillalwaysbeIndian.There's a saying that you can take away Indians from India but  you can't take away Indianness from an Indian! ’ Fatima  is a lecturer in a university in a major city in thesouth east of England. She is a Dutch citizen with the right towork in UK. She is in her mid 30s and sees herself as  ‘ veryinternational ’  a  ‘ new European ’ . She is the daughter of amigrant worker who came to live in the Netherlands thirtyyears ago, but never returned to Turkey. She was born inTurkey in a rural mountain region, but from 7 she grew up ina town in the north east of the Netherlands. She went toschool and attended a university in Istanbul from age 13. Shecame back to finish her degree and then worked in theNetherlands. Her husband is also Turkish, but moved to bewith her in the Netherlands. He stays in the Netherlandsbecause as a third country national he has many problemstravelling to and from UK and entering the Netherlands  —  soreluctantly they are separated.She explains she feels most at home in the small town inthe Netherlands where she grew up and where friends andfamily still live  — “ it is a very important city for me. Webought our house there where I was growing up and it was  – that neighbourhood was between two rails, one train railgoingto(myhometown)andtheothergoingtoUtrechtsoif you come from the airport entering the city you will see ourhouse.SowhenIenter(thistown)andseemyex-houseIseemyself walking there and going to school, playing, havingarguments with my parents  –  was very interesting. It givesyou a nice feeling and sad feeling because you see that life isgoing on  –  this is a sad feeling, it could be nice  –  it dependswhich mood you are. Many of my memories are there, but Ishouldn't forget to mention that the city or the village or themountain (in Turkey) where I was born is also veryimportant for me. ”  Amina  is in her mid 30s, and a researcher at a rights basedNGOinalargemetropolisinsoutheastEngland.Sheissingleandhas dual citizenship  —  Canadian and British. Though born inBritain she left UK at age 4 because her parents found it  ‘ tooracist ’ . Now her home is in Toronto, Canada where her familylives. She is emphatic that she is not British ( ‘ they speak funnyoverthereandhaveaqueen! ’ ).However she describes herself to others as a Canadian, or British Canadian if she is in otherplaces like Nigeria. Being born in the UK is important to hersense of self only when in Canada. Amina has a strong senseof a South Asian identity which comes from her parents. Hermother is Indian but lived in Bangladesh and her father isfrom Pakistan. She has no real close experiences of thoseplaces except through her parents and grandparents. Sherationalises herself as being more generally  ‘ South Asian ’  asshe says her history is  ‘ kind of made up ’  because of partition.Thus being South Asian is for her,  ‘…  more about a culturalthing than a place thing ’ . She explains, “ I'd probably have more in common with a white CanadianthanIwouldwithaSouthAsianIndian.ImeanIthinkyouknow,basically, I'm Canadian, I'm not Indian. That's how I think, howI valueit,howIkindofmoveroundintheworld.Weusedtojokethat about if you show up in India, like within about threeseconds they'll  󿬁  gure out you're not from there just by the way you stand, the way you put the same clothes on that they'rewearing, they can just spot it   —  it's the same kind of thing. ” Turning to the analysis of the Muslim women's narra-tives in the following section, three emerging themes framethe discussion. First is our consideration of the women'sembodied reality as raced and gendered Muslim women in 8  H.S. Mirza / Women's Studies International Forum 36 (2013) 5 – 15

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Jul 23, 2017


Jul 23, 2017
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