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Transforming the self: an ethnography of ethical change amongst young Somali Muslim women in London

Liberatore, Giulia (2013) Transforming the self: an ethnography of ethical change amongst young Somali Muslim women in London. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis is about young second-generation Somali women in London who, in recent years, have begun to practise Islam. Based on over 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork, it investigates their everyday experiences of piety in a range of contexts across London. I argue that an analysis of these young women’s pious pursuits needs to account for the connections between the broader socio-political and economic context, and the affective, embodied, discursive, and cognitive dimensions of ethical self-fashioning. First, I demonstrate how these young practising women are drawing on forms of knowledge derived from the Islamic discursive tradition, liberal discourses and Somali history. I explore how these women’s ethical changes are initiated by current shifts in policies and discussions around the failures of multiculturalism, which have brought into sharp focus the questions of what it means to be Somali, Muslim, and British. Second, by extending a Foucaultian understanding of ethical change, I approach their practise of Islam by analysing the forms and means through which these young women imagine novel relations to themselves and to others including kin, friends, potential husbands, and God. I contrast these women’s experiences with those of the first-generation in order to trace historical changes. An ethnographic investigation into their everyday lives in a range of contexts beyond Islamic places of learning, reveals the multi-constituted, relational, and constantly shifting nature of the practising self. Ultimately, through the concept of hope I investigate the forces that animate these young practising women’s quests and account for their continuous, albeit fragmentary and often incoherent, attempts to transform themselves. This analysis moves beyond the anthropological literature on Islam and piety, which prioritises coherent, discursive traditions and often bounded models of piety. It further offers a challenge to current public and political representations of Muslim women in the UK, which tend to problematize Islam. Young practising Somali women, this thesis reveals, are intervening within, and transforming these contemporary debates around the Muslim subject.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Giulia Liberatore
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Pelkmans, Mathijs and Moore, Henrietta

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