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‘Talking Back’: Counter-Hegemonic Discourses of North American Arab and Muslim Women Artists


‘Talking Back’: Counter-Hegemonic Discourses of North American Arab and Muslim Women Artists

Oumlil, Kenza (2012) ‘Talking Back’: Counter-Hegemonic Discourses of North American Arab and Muslim Women Artists. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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This dissertation research examines expressions and articulations of counter-hegemonic discourses on the part of Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Middle-Eastern women in the U.S. and Canada, with a particular attention to race and gender. As they are predominantly constructed as passive and imperilled in mainstream media, this doctoral work looks at how some of these women take voice and ‘talk back’ by creating their own media texts. The methodology involves a selection of the following case studies: (1) the poetry and performances of Suheir Hammad; (2) the cinematic interventions of Annemarie Jacir (Salt of This Sea); (3) the cinematic interventions of Shirin Neshat (Women Without Men); and (4) the films and the television comedy (Little Mosque on the Prairie) created by Zarqa Nawaz. These case studies were selected because they constitute long-term interventions to alter the dominant media sphere and on the basis of their popularity – they benefit from a wide reach within particular ‘interpretive communities.’ This dissertation includes a textual analysis focusing on the use of language and imagery deployed by these artists in their various productions. The analysis is supplemented with individual interviews with the artists involved. Additionally, the research includes a performance analysis since some of the case examples involve an embodied performance of an alternative discourse.

The selected artists are here defined as “identity workers,” rather than the more common phrase “cultural workers,” for the purpose of signalling that the circulated works not only relate to culture, but also endeavour to provide alternative portrayals of identity. My central argument is that these works are constitutive of a discourse of resistance. This thesis posits resistance as being counter-hegemonic. It demonstrates how these representations signify a re-articulation of identity and a call for a redistribution of symbolic power. It also situates these acts of talking back as constructed ‘mad’ speech based on the argument that hegemonic culture often attempts to construct a particular type of speech as mad in order to contain it while this type of talk is not always literally insane.

Further, the works analyzed in this thesis can be understood as making ‘noise.’ I conceptualize noise as a counter-hegemonic language that disturbs the tranquility of the status quo and that celebrates difference. In making noise, the selected identity workers described in my case studies deploy a variety of discursive tactics as interventions. Most notably, they engage in discursive practices of re-writing historical narratives, revalorizing native languages, activating collective heritages, and deploying resignification and reversal. These interventions additionally archive erased stories. Moreover, these texts significantly re-center gender – by referencing the workings of patriarchy, positing women heroines at the center of their narratives, or portraying lead female and feminist characters. The results of this analysis reveal that these works are subjected to attempts of containment and appropriation. In effect, the very popularity of these works endows each artist with increased latitude to stage interventions but also dilutes their intended oppositional messages through circulation and cooptation within traditional and new media. This study also demonstrates that the selected artists have been surprisingly burdened with representation.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Communication Studies
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Oumlil, Kenza
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:August 2012
ID Code:974643
Deposited By: KANZA OUMLIL
Deposited On:29 Oct 2012 19:25
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:38
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