Making Space for Living: Mapping Sudanese Women’s Im/possible Inhabitations of Late Colonial Portsmouth
Date: 28 May 2019
University of Exeter
Doctor of Philosophy in Arab & Islamic Studies
In Portsmouth, Sudanese women – who have arrived to the city in the last three decades - are re/making home in difficult spaces. Moving through both structural and social violences they are cartographers of im/possible life, whose experiences as ‘Muslim’ and as ‘migrant’ women elucidate and interrogate the conditions of belonging for ...
In Portsmouth, Sudanese women – who have arrived to the city in the last three decades - are re/making home in difficult spaces. Moving through both structural and social violences they are cartographers of im/possible life, whose experiences as ‘Muslim’ and as ‘migrant’ women elucidate and interrogate the conditions of belonging for those made ‘Other’ in Britain. Far from being abstract signifiers of difference, they are women who are embedded in particular local spaces, architectures and infra/structures which impose upon their possibilities of re/mapping home in the city. They also move through these spaces inhabiting particular bodies, which are marked and read in ways that rub against their own understandings of self and belonging; and which often contradict one another. Just as these spaces – both corporeal and urban – are sites of domination, so they also become vital spaces for negotiating and renegotiating the conditions of life in Portsmouth itself. Bodies, homes, high streets, mosques, church halls, WhatsApp and more are neither sites of total domination nor of bare resistance, but rather complicate binary narratives of power and agency as women’s everyday practices on-the-ground become a critical optic through which to analyse geographies of im/mobility, in/visibility, dis/orientation and un/belonging. In this thesis, I map the everyday trails of complex and ambiguous landmarks which simultaneously provide Sudanese women with openings and closures for remaking liveable life in Britain, as an always already ‘Othered’ subject of the British city and nation. Mapping, as such, weaves throughout the composite analyses of the thesis as a visual, oral, haptic, affective and sensorial lens which not only elucidates geography as emerging through interlocking experiences of gender, race and class but also as embedded in particular material contexts, politics and histories of post/coloniality. This work draws upon sixteen months of feminist ethnographic research with twenty-three Sudanese women and informal interviews with a further eight women, along with participation in wider ‘Sudanese Community’ events. Through methods of walking, participant observation, mental mapping, photography and more, I piece together ecologies of power in Sudanese women’s everyday lives in Portsmouth. My resulting claims are twofold. Firstly, that inhabitation is a crucial optic for critical feminist migration/diaspora studies, one which conceptualises power as both embodied and embedded, and which as such provides more nuanced accounts of diaspora, migration, difference, power, agency and resistance. Secondly, that a focus on inhabitation itself intervenes in the common-sense spatiality and temporality of ‘the colonial’, illuminating the ways in which Portsmouth in the present tense is a colonial space-time. Along with attention to the colonial, this also demands that race - as gender, and class - be made central to any account of migration or ‘migrant’ (or ‘Muslim migrant’) life. I pursue these claims through a conceptual toolbox which brings together critical feminist, Black feminist, socialist, post/colonial, queer and decolonial scholarship. I also do so through the original analytic spaces of Portsmouth and of Sudanese women, both marginalised sites of enquiry within wider discussions of migration and diaspora in Britain.
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