University of Sussex
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Be(com)ing Arab in London: performativity between structures of subjection

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:00 authored by Ramy Mounir Kamal Aly
This thesis is based upon eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in London undertaken between January 2006 and July 2007. It explores the discourses and practices which (re)produce notions of gender, race, ethnicity and class among young people born or raised in London to migrants from Arab states. Instead of taking the existence of an Arab community’ in London as self-evident, this thesis looks critically at the idea of Arab-ness in London and the ways in which it is signified, reiterated and recited. Taking the theorising of performative gender as a starting point I explore the possibilities of a sequential reading of ‘gender’ and ‘race’ and the practices and discourses which produce that which they name ‘Arab woman,’ Arab man,’ ‘British- Arab’. By looking at discourses, practices and political context, ‘ethnicity’ and ‘race’ appear to be less about an inner fixity or even multiple identities, instead they can be significantly attributed to a discursive and corporeal project of survival and social intelligibility between structures of subjection which create imperatives to enact and reproduce notions of ‘race’ and ‘gender’. In this sense it is no longer satisfactory to see ethnicity as something that one possesses – but something that one does and embodies imperfectly, constantly adding, reinforcing and disrupting its presumed structure. Looking at what it means “to do” Arab-ness in London provides opportunities to look at the underlying normative and psychical structures that inform the doing of ethnicity in a particular setting. The shift from foundationalist and “epistemological account[s] of identity to [those] which locate[s] the problematic within practices of signification permits an analysis that takes the epistemological mode itself as one possible and contingent signifying practice” (Butler 1990: 184). Through the Shisha cafe, ‘Arabic nights’, images and narratives I explore the discursive and corporeal acts that signify Arab-ness in London at a particular historical moment.


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