Rethinking power : British Muslim women's understandings, experiences and performances of power

Beascoechea Segui, Neus (2019) Rethinking power : British Muslim women's understandings, experiences and performances of power. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


British Muslim women are frequently represented as lacking power and oppressed in public debates. This thesis argues that current power theories fail to understand these women’s power. Against this background, this thesis argues that power is culturally and contextually informed. Power is understood as relational, following previous social psychological research. The thesis examines how British Muslim women understand, experience and perform power. It provides a qualitative-methods examination, drawing on social representations theory (SRT) and identity process theory (IPT). The methodology is based on data triangulation. First, this research explores the British media representational landscape around these women’s power from national, local and ethno-religious newspapers, adopting SRT (Study 1). Despite a prevalence of representing power as making choices, these women’s choices are depicted as problematic or no-choices in dominant representations, which represent them as lacking agency. Contrastingly, minority representations portrayed these women speaking out and celebrating their success. Then, 21 semi-structured interviews were conducted with British Muslim women of three age groups to examine, adopting a phenomenological approach to power, their experiences of power in their everyday lives (Study 2). Unexpectedly, the thematic analysis did not reveal fundamental different accounts of power, participants mainly invoked individualised accounts of power (e.g., autonomy), despite their collective orientation (e.g., helping others), following their religious beliefs. Furthermore, participants barely mentioned their collective identity and power. Their presentation as active women was interpreted as strategic and part of a collective effort to contest their negative representation. The analysis also highlighted generational similarities and differences across groups. In light of this unexpected results, to explore further collective power experiences, 21 semi-structured interviews with British Muslim women about their social engagements were conducted (study 3). The thematic analysis revealed a shared understanding of collective power as brining change in society and within themselves. Participants engaged in processes of (re)definition of their collective identity and religion, coming together and building collective efficacy. This thesis shows how British Muslim women understand, experience and perform power combining Western and Islamic values. Furthermore, how they are actively contesting their (mis)representation collectively through identity presentation processes. These results imply that in order to increase our understanding of these women’s power, research should reflect on the social contexts, their identities and the meanings attached to their power relations. The findings and methods reported here suggest that adopting a phenomenological approach to examine power makes a substantial contribution to social psychology of power.

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