Accepted Paper:

Colonial feminism revisited: tracing the methodological genealogies of 'the Muslim woman'  
Susanne Dahlgren (Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on stereotyping of women's religious engagement in the Middle East. Looking at recent anthropological literature the paper will ask: why does stereotyping, such as in notions of 'the Muslim woman', 'Muslim publics' or 'the Islamic activist' persist in Middle Eastern ethnography?

Paper long abstract:

In her classic study "Women and gender in Islam" Leila Ahmed outlined the idea of colonialism in the guise of feminism. While her interest centred round officials and missionaries in colonial service during the course of the European colonial missions in the Middle East, the idea of feminism as a 'colonial project' bears contemporary relevance, too. Proponents of post-colonial feminisms have pointed out how the white-middle class-heterosexual feminism has dominated politics of feminism with a universal claim for validity.

Since anthropological gender studies in and on the Middle East successfully moved out from the harem and victimizing no more is the issue new approaches to studies of genealogies of gender, sexualities, families and intimate relations as well as political-economic analyses have emerged. As historians and anthropologists deconstruct fixed typographies persisting in such notions as family, kinship and society and the newness of phenomena linked to modernity is increasingly questioned, women's studies in and on the Middle East still face the problem of abstraction, generalisation and compression. This is in particular pertinent to studies that discuss women's attachments with religion and in particular in their different ways in engaging into 'the morality of being a good Muslim'. To the background of my anthropological fieldwork in the Yemeni town of Aden on 'making a good Muslim' I will discuss recent anthropological literature on women's engagement in the emerging public sphere. I will ask, how much we can abstract and generalise without falling to the pit of homogenising experiences and intentions and thus end up in reproducing such notions as the 'Muslim woman' or the 'Islamic activist'.

Panel W088
One hundred years of European anthropology in and on the Middle East: 1900-2000