Skip to main content
British Muslim women are frequently represented as lacking power and oppressed in public debates. This thesis argues that current power theories fail to understand these women's power; as they fail to emphasise that power is culturally and contextually informed.
It is the aim of this work to examine how British Muslim women understand, experience and perform power. This thesis understands power as relational, following previous social psychological research. Comprising three studies, it provides a qualitative-methods examination, drawing on social representations theory (SRT) and identity process theory (IPT).
Study 1 explores the British media representational landscape around these women's power from national, local and ethno-religious newspapers, adopting SRT. Despite a prevalence of representing power as making choices, these women's choices are depicted as problematic or no-choices in dominant representations, which represent them as lacking agency. Contrastingly, minority representations portrayed these women speaking out and celebrating their success.
Study 2 entailed 21 semi-structured interviews with British Muslim women of three age groups to examine, adopting a phenomenological approach to power, their experiences of power in their everyday lives. However, the thematic analysis did not reveal fundamental different accounts of power, participants mainly invoked individualised accounts of power (e.g., autonomy), despite their collective orientation (e.g., helping others), following their religious beliefs. Unexpectedly, participants barely mentioned their collective identity and power. Their presentation as active women was interpreted as strategic and part of a collective effort to contest their negative representation. This study also highlights generational similarities and differences across groups.
Following up on the previous study's findings, Study 3 investigates collective power in 21 semi-structured interviews about social engagement. The thematic analysis revealed a shared understanding of collective power as brining change in society and within themselves. Participants engaged in processes of (re)definition of their collective identity and religion, coming together and building collective efficacy.
Overall, the thesis shows how British Muslim women's power is culturally informed, combining Western and Islamic values. These results imply that in order to increase our understanding of these women's power, research should reflect on the social contexts, their identities and the meanings attached to their power relations. The findings and methods reported here suggest that adopting a phenomenological approach to examine power makes a substantial contribution to social psychology of power.