Investigating Space and Subjectivities of Emirati Female Graduating Students in a Neoliberal City.

  • Aleya James

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


Situated at the confluence of Public Pedagogy and Cultural Studies (Giroux, 2004), specifically in the nascent field of Arab Cultural Studies (Sabry, 2011), this thesis aims to locate quotidian practices within a broader socio-cultural politics and demonstrate the ways in which the processes/production of subjectification are (re)constituted in deeply contextual ways. Utilising an interdisciplinary blend of theory/method (Hall, 1992) I investigate how Emirati female students, at the same point of their educational journey but at greatly differing stages of their lifepaths, navigate a multiplicity of subjective positions moulded by the public forces of state-backed women’s empowerment, urban dynamics, and culturally-gendered norms and expectations. I interrogate the ways in which ten Emirati women students, on the cusp of graduation from their undergraduate studies, configure their lived spaces as family members (wives, daughters, sisters), friends and students, and how multiple, often contradictory subjectivities emerge.

Backgrounding the study are the dominant discursive trajectories of an authoritarian neoliberal state (Bruff and Tansel, 2018) and the reworking of identity formulations (Jones, 2019) in an Arab nation undergoing a cultural renaissance (Mazawi, 2007). These discourses are adumbrated by the effects/affects of precarity and privilege (Al-Qasimi, 2020). Dubai, conceptualised as a worlding city (Haines, 2011) provides both the spatial and ideological site of the lived experiences of the study’s participants. I deploy notions of spatiality and subjectivity (Probyn, 2003) as theoretical starting points to probe the experience of the everyday. My enquiry eschews pre-imposed constructs of gender, culture or identity. Rather, using feminist post-structural underpinnings, I theorise the quotidian using embodied geographies (Davidson and Milligan, 2004) and affective practices (Wetherell, 2012) to situate Emirati women students’ experiences. The research findings coalesce around three key thematics – Being Emirati, Inhabiting and Learning – to reveal how discursive-affective practices operate as biopolitical technologies of regulation, representation, control and mediation and through the assemblage of mind/body/brain as pedagogical forces (Ellsworth, 2005). This research contributes to our knowledge of Emirati women students’ subjective meaning-making, evidencing it as diverse and complex, in a challenge to the binary dualisms of modernity/tradition frequently ascribed in this context. Instead, this research conceives of Emirati women students imbricated in a process of becoming, in constant motion and negotiation as social change powered by modernising developments and globalisation sweeps through Emirati society.

A lack of expatriate/Emirati interaction outside of the classroom, results in expatriate educator’s limited comprehension of the intricate workings of Emirati society, frequently materialising in simplistic generalisations and damaging stereotypes. This thesis responds to this problematic dynamic through the deployment of a public pedagogy approach with the intention of developing a heightened awareness of the particularities of Emirati women students’ lives within a wider cultural politics (Francombe, 2011). The study demonstrates the cogency of such a methodological approach in this context, indicating that education is, for Emirati women students, a deeply inter-subjective relational and transformational practice (Biesta, 2010). It contributes to educators’ knowledge and understandings of students’ everyday lives, thus informing academic practice and allowing faculty to tailor their pedagogical praxis in ways that will complement and extend students’ educational experiences.
Date of Award26 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorCarol Taylor (Supervisor) & Rita Chawla-Duggan (Supervisor)


  • Space
  • Subjectivity
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Public Pedagogy
  • Feminism
  • Higher Education
  • Dubai

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