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Apna Britain: negotiating identity through television consumption among British Pakistani Muslim women in Bradford

Jacob, May (2013) Apna Britain: negotiating identity through television consumption among British Pakistani Muslim women in Bradford. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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British Pakistani Muslim women of Bradford inhabit a highly mediatised space where contested discourses of gender, ethnicity, culture and nationality take shape. This ethnographic study looks into the ways British Pakistani women in Bradford use television to negotiate and manage identities and identifications (Hall, 1996) in the context of everyday life. Electronic media, especially television, become central to the manifestation of conflicting discourses of belonging to national and transnational communities. The tensions associated with national and transnational identities are negotiated and renewed in the context of everyday life and as women move between the domestic, the ‘community’ and the national sphere. Through an ethnographic lens and an empirical study that took place in a community centre and four households, the discussion unravels these women’s attempts to exercise agency within the intensively restrictive socio-cultural framework where their lives unfold. Most relevant to this thesis is the use of electronic media, especially television. This thesis explores the role of television in three parallel realms: the home, the ‘community’ and the nation. Participants were found to engage with television narratives in their homes, not as passive viewers but as active audiences creating new meanings. Communal spaces were re-imagined through women’s participation in social events and by employing ‘women-oriented’ religious media. Subsequently the women approached their belonging in the national context by contesting their portrayals in mainstream media and by reinterpreting the cultural norms of their parents through the narratives of television. By underlining the importance of Bradford’s locally specific culture and the ways this culture has been influenced by the systemic alienation of working-class ethnic minority families, I argue that women and their narratives of identity and belonging have been radically curtailed. However, active agency and persistent structural negotiations have led many participants to reinvent ethnicity’, thus creating ‘new [rooted, local and yet supra-national] ethnicities’ (Hall, 1996, emphasis mine). The space around television – in its consumption and media talk – provides a platform for engaging with hegemonic discourses of ethnicity, religion, gender and nationality and for reflecting on the limits of these discourses, as well as on the limits of their identities. A strong shared sense of belonging to a community provides the framework to manage these contradictory realities of the socially situated gendered identities. I argue that the role of television is cyclical, in that the meanings created at home ripple into the nation and back via the ‘community’. Media are central to diasporic life and the crises that explicate migrant life are reflected in their media consumption. Within unsettling narratives of being a migrant, the participants seek belonging among the familiar within the mediatised world that surrounds the diasporic life. In this space, identities and identifications are seemingly new, but are born out of the ashes of the old and familiar.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 May Jacob
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Georgiou, Myria and Helsper, Ellen and Rantanen, Terhi

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