SOUTH ASIAN WOMEN IN KUWAIT: IDENTITY, SELF, AND THE POLITICS OF DIASPORA AND HOME-MAKING.
Burney, Seyyada Anaam
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My thesis research explores the relationships between identity, a sense of self, and context among middle to upper class, South Asian women living in Kuwait. In particular, I examine how these women’s senses of self and identities are both products of place and discourse as well as productive of them. This is a multiscalar dynamic of women’s lives that is unrepresented in current literature on migration in Kuwait. The limited studies on Kuwait’s South Asian diaspora, Ghardezi (1991) and Arnold and Shah (1984) among them, are largely quantitative and unable to elucidate the intricacies of South Asian women’s lives because of their methodological limitations (Leonard, 2002). Such research’s resultant deferral to stereotypes of ‘dependency’ and passivity when describing South Asian home-makers silences these women and ignores the intricacies of their lived experiences in Kuwait. My research seeks to attend to this resounding methodological and topical gap by focusing on women’s individual narratives, and the diverse ways in which they enact, challenge, and (re)produce cultural discourses within the diasporic home. How, for instance, does the experience of diaspora alter perceptions and performances of self, social roles, and identity? From October 2012-January 2013, I used a mixed-method, multi-stage research design informed by geographical, feminist, and postcolonial epistemologies in order to respond to my central research questions. This 8 fieldwork revealed that a sense of self is both powerful and fragile, easily influenced by women’s contextual surroundings and yet, also easily disturbed by the fast-changing landscapes of modernity and globalization. Kuwaiti migration trends and policies constrain South Asian families in a position of ‘permanent temporariness,’ considering and treating them as temporary migrants even though many have lived there for more than 20 years. Nonetheless, South Asian women navigate these legal and discursive restrictions skillfully by employing a wealth of cultural knowledge in their everyday interactions and life’s work as “ethnomarkers,” ensuring the symbolic and lived continuity of their respective cultural practices and values through performances of their role as mothers (Huang, Teoh, and Yeo, 2012: 395). A sense of self, I argue, functions as a concept, process, and strategy, helping these women negotiate uncertainty by ordering their lives and the spaces around them. Indeed, South Asian women actively re-politicize diasporic spaces and, in particular, diasporic homes by articulating the self through performances of social and cultural discourses.