Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: Feminism, the British-Pakistani way

In her final  post , Dr Noreen Mirza, reflects on the strength and resilience of women across the generations that she met during her research.

We have all come across middle-aged and elderly Pakistani women in Britain, in traditional dress, going about their daily life, at the supermarket, waiting for a bus, at the doctor’s surgery. Many people may assume that these women are perhaps submissive, trapped in a patriarchal culture, not integrated into British way of life. These are typically negative stereotypes created by the media, greatly influencing the general public.

It may not cross people’s mind that many of these women are responsible for the socio-economic mobility of the next generation of British-Pakistanis. The media does not seem to show interest in the number of successful British-Pakistani women and the factors contributing to their success. The women in my study credited their mothers for achievements in their education and career. They considered their mothers as their role model and inspiration in life. The mothers wanted their daughters to be good wives, mothers, students, professionals, citizens and friends, and to earn the benefits from these relationships and roles. Therefore, I felt it important to interview the mothers of some of my participants to find out how they raised their daughters to be confident, driven and competitive.

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Mother and daughter. Source: junaidrao (www.flickr.com/photos/junaidrao) (cropped)

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Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: Experiencing Islamophobia

The next post in Dr Noreen Mirza‘s series based on her PhD research reveals the many ways Islamophobia is experienced and perceived by middle-class British-Pakistani women.

My research gave me an insight into the type and also extent of prejudice experienced by British-Pakistanis in their daily life. Much to my ignorance, and I suppose naivety, I did not expect prejudice to be widespread among the middle-classes. I had expected ignorance to be the cause of bigotry and I least expected this from people who had been to university, lived in cosmopolitan cities, and were well-travelled. I assumed that these experiences would make people open-minded and appreciate diversity.

The women I worked with believed that Muslims and British-Pakistanis had become a stigmatised group after 9/11. The effects of this were exasperating because of the lack of acknowledgement that the majority of British-Pakistani Muslims are law-abiding citizens who make a positive contribution to society. Prejudice seemed to be a common occurrence in their lives which challenged their sense of belonging and acceptance in Britain. Most were born and raised in Britain, and with rising tensions they no longer felt welcome or safe in a country they regarded as home. Their exposure to biased news in the media challenged their sense of ‘Britishness’.

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British Mosque. Source: RPM (www.flickr.com/photos/rpmarks)

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Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: Visual piety

In the third post from Dr Noreen Mirza, she discusses how her research challenges stereotypes about Muslim women, particularly around wearing the hijab.

Reflecting on my own upbringing and experiences of being a second-generation middle-class British-Pakistani Muslim prompted me to want to understand what was happening among other socially mobile British-Pakistani women in Manchester. I was puzzled by the growing trend in ‘visual piety’ – a public and evident expression of religious affiliation among British-Pakistani women, such as wearing the hijab (headscarf), to signify commitment to faith and Islamic identity.

I decided to speak about visual piety to two of the women in my research, Amber and Syrah, who both wore the hijab. Their friendship blossomed when they realised that they both shared a similar lifestyle and religious outlook. More importantly they share a love of fashion, and they exchanged ideas and tips with one another about how to combine style and modesty.

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Muslim Fashion. Source: Shawn Sun (www.flickr.com/photos/abayatrade) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: Being a native anthropologist

In her second post Dr Noreen Mirza reflects on the challenges of being a ‘native anthropologist’. 

It seemed a common assumption among the people I came across that studying my own society would be an easy task because of my familiarity in terms of language, customs and values. Many were also under the impression that people are more accommodating, open and trusting towards those who share a common background. These assumptions were greatly misleading. The fact of the matter was, in my case at least, that being a native anthropologist meant people were reticent about divulging information because of the fear of confidential information being leaked, leading to gossip in the community.

I began fieldwork in October 2012 in South Manchester which involved following the lives of a core group of twelve women over a period of fourteen months. These women became the participants in my study. Initially I had interviewed approximately 80 women, including friends and family of my participants, as well as other women who could not commit to participating because of longer periods of time involved.

Participating in my research gave the women an opportunity to express their views and concerns about issues such as prejudice and inequality, and to share their experiences of being middle-class British-Pakistanis in Manchester.

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Courtesy Noreen Mirza

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Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: My background

This is the first in a series of posts from Dr Noreen Mirza, sharing stories from her research into the experiences of middle class British-Pakistani women in Manchester. First, how her own formative experiences underpin her research.

Being a second-generation British-Pakistani and Muslim woman growing up in 1980s Manchester, in a predominantly white neighbourhood, I remember the deep desire to be the same as the other children I played with in my neighbourhood and at school. I was aware of the difference in my skin colour, heritage and religious background, as all the children I played with were white British Christians. The yearning to be the same stayed with me into my teenage years and later influenced the subject of my PhD thesis, on middle class British Pakistani women in Manchester.

As I embarked on my research, I felt that the image of British-Pakistanis in the media was a misrepresentation and not a true reflection of a lot of British-Pakistanis like myself. I wanted to explore class identity and show the diversity among British-Pakistanis. We are not a homogenous group and our experiences and upbringing has a profound impact in shaping who we are.

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Noreen as a child and her mother. Courtesy Noreen Mirza

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Manchester Movement Histories

A couple of weeks ago I (Hannah) wheeled a precariously-laden trolley of archive boxes over the road to the Friend’s Meeting House, to be the source material for a day-long research workshop for undergraduate History students. Reblogged from History@manchester, here are Dr Kerry Pimblott’s reflections on what was a hugely inspiring day for all of us.

History@Manchester

By Dr Kerry Pimblott

The key to a more just future lies in a real reckoning with our collective pasts.

At least that was the thinking of the eminent scholar-activist, W. E. B. Du Bois. Writing in February 1905 – at the height of what many consider ‘the nadir’, or lowest point, in American race relations – Du Bois stated,

We can only understand the present by continually referring to and studying the past: when any one of our intricate daily phenomena puzzles us; when there arises religious problems, political problems, race problems, we must always remember that while their solution lies here in the present, their cause and their explanation lie in the past.

Du Bois’s call to ‘look-back-to-move-forward’ rings no less true today than it did over a century ago. Last week it was this dictum – in a new nadir typified by the twin tragedies of Grenfell…

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Developing the ‘Honour’-Based Violence Collection: The Beginning

Becki Kaur has recently submitted her PhD, which explores how professionals working in the domestic abuse sector understand, explain, and address ‘honour’-based violence. We’re excited to have her working with us on a six-month project to develop the library’s resources on this very important topic.

I’ve heard some people say that, by the time it gets to the end of their PhD, they’ve fallen out of love with their research topic. In this respect, I consider myself fortunate. Although the nature of my area of research – ‘honour’-based violence – is (to put it nicely) deeply unpleasant, I feel as passionate about raising awareness of the subject as I did when I started my research journey four years ago. So, when the opportunity arose to work with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre (AIUC) to help develop ‘honour’-based violence-related resources, I didn’t have to be asked twice! Continue reading

Hip Hop in the Library

Hattie Charnley-Shaw has been working with us on the Hip Hop Collection project. Here she explains a bit about the project, about Hip Hop Studies and Hip Hop Education, and reflects on her work to date.

There’s no denying that Hip Hop is one of the most popular music genres in the world. Nor is there any denying that it has become a worldwide phenomenon in the realms of culture, fashion, and the visual arts too. Its existence in the world of education however, is far less widespread or acknowledged.

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‘Redefinition lies at the heart of creativity’ – Young Identity, Unity Radio and Reflections on a Decade of Grime

Libby Turner, a recent English and American Studies graduate from the University of Manchester, reflects on our recent Hip Hop, Spoken Word and the Library event.
(We’ll be posting more about the Hip Hop Collection project next week…) 

‘Hip Hop, Spoken Word and the Library – Transcending Borders? Reflections on a Decade of Grime and Young Identity’, brought together Hip Hop and Grime scholars, poets, radio professionals and talented young people for an evening of discussion and performance.

the image shows three photos in a line, the first is a head shot of a black woman with long braided hair, the second is a piece of graffiti featuring a rapper and the text Hip Hop, the third is a pile of books about hip hop in a library

The event marks the launch of a brand new resource at the Central library Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre – one that focuses on the themes of hip hop, grime, spoken word, education and social justice. Continue reading

Using our Collections in your Studies: Introducing the Research Skills Series

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Research Skills Series

Most of us know the basics of using a lending library, and anyone who has studied history will have a grasp of what archives are, how they’re accessed and why they’re important. But seeing all of the possibilities of a collection for your particular area of study takes time; something many researchers don’t have. So we want to give you a few shortcuts, suggestions and an insider perspective, to help you make the best use of our archive and library collections.

Over the coming months our Honorary Research Associate Dr Alison Newby will be exploring the collection and putting together a series of blog posts about how it can be used. She’ll cover practicalities, such as how to use databases and collection information; she’ll highlight some collection strengths, such as studying oral histories; and she’ll also reflect on the issues that a collection like ours raises for research, such as reflecting a diversity of historical voices.

Alison is a historian by training, as well as a qualified coach working in the HE sector. For her, the roles of coach and historian involve using similar skills – including the abilities to see lots of different perspectives, and to pull together reflections based on the ‘stories’ people actually narrate. You can read about her coaching work here. On the history side, she completed her PhD on nineteenth-century American social and political history at the University of Manchester, and has been specialising in focused research projects bringing together race relations themes and materials from cultural institutions in the Manchester area. Having visited a variety of archives of different sizes in the UK and the USA, she is able to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The posts in this Research Skills Series are aimed at researchers at all levels, so whether you’re just starting out with independent research or a school project, or you’re a seasoned researcher interested in maximising your time at the Resource Centre, we hope there will be something here for you. Check out the series to date (which includes some skills-focused past posts) in the Research skills category.