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Summer Qassim (2019)

Summer Qassim (2019)

Research Title: Being Good Women: The Performance of Femininity and Euro-American Counterpublics

Supervisor: Professor James Laidlaw


Biography:

My research project aims at exploring the complex intersection between a large, growing group of women geographically based in Euro-America who actively attempt to embody femininity in order to find success in their heteronormative relationships, and their subjective experience of cultivating this femininity amidst other competing values, such as the “floating signifier” of feminism and their comportments in the workplace. The research will situate this ethnographic inquiry amidst three broader, intersecting contexts: (1) the increasing shift from discipline to self-discipline that often accompanies neoliberal shifts from policies of public obligation to self-care, (2) the role and function of self-help techniques, often based on “New-Age”, repackaged Buddhist principles, as they come to inform everyday, ethical self-cultivation and (3) the formation of a normative kinship model. An ethnographic focus on the techniques these Euro-American women use to “recalibrate” themselves as feminine beings with the desirous aim of heteronormative marriage fills a significant space for examining the cultivation of “traditional” femininity in the absence of an explicit religious or “traditional” discourse, and within Euro-American society itself. It also enables a timely inquiry into the proliferation of self-help techniques and their relationships to religious practices, particularly Buddhism, their intersections with New Age spirituality, and the dialectic relationship between ethical projects, political agency and neoliberal governance in Euro-America. 

My research makes significant use of digital ethnographic methods as well as “conventional” ethnographic methods.

Before coming to Cambridge, I completed an MPhil in Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford, an M.A. in Humanities and Social Thought at New York University (NYU), and a B.A. in Political Science and Middle Eastern History at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I have long-term living, research, and teaching experience in the Levant (Syria and Lebanon) and Pakistan. These experiences continue to inform my research interests and approaches, with a long-term aim of linking my current project with broader, cross-cultural comparative anthropological research.  

Research Interests

Ethics; religion; (secular and neo) liberalism; New Age spirituality; gender and sexuality; digital ethnography; Islam; Europe; the US; the Levant.

Key Publications

Boys Will Be Boys So Girls Will Be Girls: The Resurgence of Femininity Among Single Women (in) Advances in Gender Research, Volume 24, 93-113 (2017)

 

Talks Given

2019 Oxford Digital Ethnography Group, Ethics Panel I, Oxford, UK