THE MEANING AND PLACE OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IN THE LIVES OF YOUNG MUSLIM WOMEN

Knez, Kelly (2007). THE MEANING AND PLACE OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IN THE LIVES OF YOUNG MUSLIM WOMEN PhD Thesis, School of Human Movement Studies, University of Queensland.

       
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Author Knez, Kelly
Thesis Title THE MEANING AND PLACE OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IN THE LIVES OF YOUNG MUSLIM WOMEN
School, Centre or Institute School of Human Movement Studies
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Abstract/Summary Little is currently known about the place and meaning of physical activity in the lives of young Muslim women. The limited research that has been conducted in this area has tended to identify young Muslim women with a single (and often narrow) interpretation of Islam. This has resulted in a failure to consider the different and diverse ways in which young Muslim women shape their subjectivities through negotiating, resisting and/or taking up the different and often complex discourses within Islam. Additionally, previous research has mostly focused upon young Muslim women’s apparent barriers to physical activity engagement, often citing religious clothing and the need for gender segregation as reasons for ‘non participation’. Whilst clothing and gender segregation are important considerations for many young Muslim women, they are not necessarily relevant for all young Muslim women or have a consistent impact across Muslim women. Indeed young Muslim women living in contemporary Western society move through a variety of social spaces on any given day. Consideration therefore must be given to the to the different ways in which discourses such as gender, ethnicity, heteronormativity, healthism and popular culture intersect with the way in which young Muslim women make meaning of and engage in physical activity. Thus this thesis sought to explore the meaning and place of physical activity in the lives of ten young Muslim women as they moved across home, school, recreational spaces and their religious practices. Ten young Muslim women, who attended two different state high schools in an Australian capital city, were each interviewed seven times over a two year period. Using semi-structured interviews, the young women were asked to speak about an array of topics including physical activity, health, fitness, families, school, friends, bodies, Islam, ethnicity and popular culture. These interviews were augmented through the use of diaries, maps, photos and magazines. Whilst in this instance, concerns surrounding confidentiality prevented the diary, photo and mapping artefacts from being analysed in their own right, the discussions which were stimulated by these proved in many cases to be just as valuable. The use of these varied data collection methods however, allowed for the participants to have more freedom to tell their own stories when compared with traditional structured interviewing. All interviews were transcribed by the author and the data analysed using both an interpretive and discourse analysis. It is argued that researching young Muslim women and physical activity in postmodern times requires a flexible theoretical perspective which allows for a focus on the gendered experiences of the young participants, a complex and layered theory of difference and an understanding of how their subjectivities were constructed by social structures, power and discourse. For these reasons, feminist poststructuralism was the chosen methodology as it offered a framework and tools to assist in the understanding of how the participants negotiated discourse in order to take up different ways of understanding and engaging in physical activity (see Chapter Three). It also allowed for notions of difference and diversity. The interpretive data analysis in Chapter Four highlighted the varied ways in which all of the young women were physically active. Significantly, the family was highlighted as one of the most important access points for the young women to engage in physical activity. Religious requirements were of little consequence regarding the young women’s participation in physical education, with other factors such as gendered discourses having more of an impact on their non-participation. School sport however proved to be an important opportunity for many of the young women to be physically active in a team environment. The provisions of gender segregated spaces for the young women to be physically active was not a requirement which was spoken about by most of the young women, nor were issues to do with Islamic clothing, except when the young women spoke of others’ assumptions of how they believed clothing to impact upon their daily lives. The use of discourse analysis in Chapters Five, Six and Seven allowed for the complex intersections of physical activity with gender, race, ethnicity, religion, heteronormativity, healthism and popular culture to be explored. Indeed this analysis drew particular attention to the different and diverse ways in which the participants shaped their subjectivities and social relations in the context of physical activity and health. Chapter Five for example explored the different ways in which the participants constituted themselves as ‘young Muslim women’, supporting calls from some researchers for the need to move beyond understanding the hijab as a marker of subjectivity. Despite the re-occurring themes of difference and diversity throughout this thesis, Chapter Six highlighted the significance of dominant feminine discourses and physical activity positioning them ‘other’ than male. Additionally, Chapter Seven revealed the implications of discourses surrounding healthism on both the meaning and place of physical activity in the lives of the eleven participants. Understandings of a healthy body as being slim were expressed by many, as were the moral implications of not having the ‘correct’ body shape, with language such as ‘lazy’, ‘unmotivated’ and ‘unattractive’ used to describe those deemed to be overweight. The overall findings from this provide an important departure from much existing literature which situates young Muslim women as belonging to a homogenous group and understands their participation in physical activity through a deficit framework. The eleven participants were indeed physically active, in a variety of different ways, within a variety of different locations. Similarly the meanings which the young women ascribed to physical activity differed greatly, depending upon their access to discursive resources such as the media, education and Islam. This study points to the need for a more complex understanding of young Muslim women’s engagement in physical activity by researchers, educators and policy makers. This is particularly important in a post September 11 society where images of stereotypical Muslim women are displayed daily.

 
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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 15:42:02 EST