Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo's upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society

Birkholz S (Unpublished)
Augsburg University.

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A general lack of researchers' in-depth attention notwithstanding, some inspiring work on Middle Eastern Muslim women has been done in recent years, mainly by female scholars from the disciplines of both anthropology and political science (Ismail 2003; Harders 1999; Macleod 1992; Harders 1995; Mahmood 2005; Hafez 2003). I would like to locate myself in this line of research (to speak of a tradition might be far fetched). In contrast to the aforementioned, I intend to shift the focus away from Islamists and lower classes to young female students from the upper echelons of Egyptian society in order to enhance my understanding of local appropriations and reformulations of globalisation. Determined to avoid the reproduction of stereotypes, the challenge was to put critical post-colonial feminist demands into academic practice and capture some aspects of the variety of female lives. To be true to this intention and to match my epistemological standpoint, I opted for a qualitative research approach using biographical interviewing and interpretative text-analysis aimed at reconstructing "narrative identity", which gave ample space to the individual's perspective. During my field research in Cairo I conducted twelve intense biographical interviews with female students at the American University in Cairo whom I considered to be at the intersection of conflicting societal currents and at a biographical intersection, too. In addition, the tumultuous events of the Egyptian Revolution 2011 constituted a new vantage point for identity construction. The women's life stories, my two-months long field research in Egypt in February and March 2011, in addition to extensive prior stays in the country, provided me with fascinating insights into the self-understanding of these young women. In my thesis, the in-depth analysis of one case study allows me to dig deep into one person's life story to understand the complexities of an individual's narrative self-construction. Following the frame of reference set by my anchor case, I analyse in detail the question of agency and the identity concept within her life story. The creative confrontation of the individual case with perspectives from the other interviews contextualises the case study and helps to reconstruct some potential social worlds of my interview partners. The tension of the "Americanised Society" and the "Egyptian Conservative World" proved to be most salient to the experience of my interviewees. The American University Cairo is to them a symbol and prime location of the Americanised Society. In the reconstruction of the Egyptian counterpart I focus on four interrelated topics: the role of women, surveillance, religion and veiling. A third world is reconstructed, that of the 'normal', lower class Egyptians. Once we extend our look beyond the confinements of the upper class "bubble" we see a society strongly divided along socio-economic cleavages that find their spatial manifestations in Cairo's urban landscape. In order to understand the position of the interviewee's upper middle class, I attempt to understand the mutual perception of upper classes and lower classes. The middle class' efforts to navigate the various contradictions puts a heavy burden on women in particular. Thus, only at the backdrop of the confrontation of the two social worlds can we understand how restrictive gender norms and intolerance are (re)negotiated. Class belonging constitutes an additional dimension. Class intersects in a complex manner with the contrast between the Americanised Society and the Egyptian Conservative World, with the gender norms and religious practices, and with the people's strategies. Different conceptual perspectives, such as gender, class, barra (the foreign), or youth are shown to highlight different aspects, yield different results and lead to alternative questions for further research. The result of my reconstructive interpretation is a colourful picture of the social worlds of young Egyptian upper-middle class women, providing an insight into potential ways of thinking, conflict lines and alternative visions that these young women formulate for themselves. This study is also an attempt at consequently implementing a standpoint which takes the individual interviewee and the principles of a qualitative, constructivist, and interactionist methodology seriously. Throughout the research process, I made an effort adjusting my method, to render it appropriate to the subject under investigation. By strictly adhering to the guidelines of openness, reflexivity, and transparency, not only in the interviews but also in my presentation of the research results, I hope to do justice to the idea of qualitative research - and to the women whose stories I am re-telling here.
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Birkholz S. Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo's upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society. Augsburg University; Unpublished.
Birkholz, S. (Unpublished). Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo's upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society. Augsburg University.
Birkholz, S. (Unpublished). Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo's upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society. Augsburg University.
Birkholz, S., Unpublished. Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo's upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society, Augsburg University.
S. Birkholz, Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo's upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society, Augsburg University: Unpublished.
Birkholz, S.: Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo's upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society. Augsburg University (Unpublished).
Birkholz, Sina. Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo's upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society. Augsburg University, Unpublished.
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