Respected and Respectable: The Centrality of ‘Performance’ and
‘Audiences’ in the (Re)production and Potential Revision of Gendered
This article reports on a strand of data
generated from an ethnographic study, spanning a period of 4 years,
which focused on the negotiation of identities among a number of
young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’. It examines tensions between agency
and constraint by selectively drawing upon and developing
theoretical conceptualisations relating to discourse, performance,
performativity. Young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ are exposed to multiple
‘identity’ discourses and are familiar with different
performative scripts, which they draw upon strategically in
different contexts. However, their performative engagements with
discourses of gendered ethnicity are influenced, and can be
constrained, by disciplinary power and the threat of coercion. As
such, their performance-shifting is complex. It neither always
represents ‘free’ agency or absence of agency. The responses and
reactions of others - the approval or rejection of ‘audiences’- are
important to the success or failure of their performances and,
therefore, to the reproduction or the possible revision of
performative scripts and to discourses of gendered ethnic
Key Words: ethnicity;
gender; performance; performativity; reflexivity; discourse;
audience; Pakistani; Edinburgh; ethnography.
focus in this article is on how young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’[i]
performatively negotiate their plural, gendered, ethnic identities
across a range of contexts. I indicate the centrality of ‘audiences’
in the performance of their identities in so far as the immediate
and/or deferred sanctions or rewards, which particular ‘audiences’
can confer, come to bear on the choices these young people make. The
approach that I adopt here extends the concept of ‘audience’ beyond
its location within the conventional context of media and formal
‘performances’ to include the significance of ‘audiences’ in social
performance and the performative construction of ‘identity’.
In developing sociological and gender theories concerned with
performance and performativity the analysis I present posits young
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ as variously and, at times, simultaneously as
both ‘performers’ and ‘audiences’. However, as I will show, others
too can and do comprise the ‘audience’ for these young people’s
performances of self and collective identities.
multi-cultural encounters in Edinburgh and
‘diverse mobilities’ (Urry, 2000)
expose young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ to various ‘identity’ discourses
and provide them with a wide repertoire of reflexive and
performative materials. Young people draw upon these resources in
thinking and doing selves. However, young ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’ are also subject to powerful discursive constraints and,
to various degrees, threats of coercion, which impact upon their
subjectivities and presentation of their gendered, ethnic selves. I
describe, here, how a combination of gossip, the ‘South Asian’
cultural concept of izzat (family honour and respect) and
surveillance influence these young people’s performances of
gendered, ethnic identities, as do hegemonic discourses pertaining
to ‘pure, authentic identity’. I also examine the dialogical
relationship between ethnicised masculinity and femininity where ‘respected
Pakistani masculinity’ is largely dependent upon the performance of
‘respectable Pakistani femininity’. Furthermore, I show, some
of the ways in which young people transgress gendered, ethnic and
religious performative ‘norms’ by avoiding surveillance, often by
recourse to technology such as mobile phones. Finally, while the
data analysed below shows how the degree to which consciousness
represents free agency is both variable and complex, it also reveals
how young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ are frequently aware of their
routine context-shifting performances and of the performative
‘nature’ of ‘identity’ itself. I suggest that such consciousness is
a significant factor in their discursive and performative revision
of gendered, ethnic identities and ‘identity’ scripts.
Research and participants
The research techniques employed in the
ethnographic study I refer to here were principally participant
observation but also informal interviews and group discussions
(involving groups of young people known to each other), as well as
examination of other relevant texts. Participant observation and the
recording of field-notes spanned the period from summer 1995 through
to winter 1999/2000. While this lengthy period allowed for
immersion, my participation in the field was intermittent until the
most intense phase of fieldwork, beginning at the start of 1997 and
lasting until the winter of 1999/2000. Throughout the fieldwork,
participant observation took place in family homes with family
members including young people aged between 13 years and 30. I
visited 17 family homes, ten of these on between two and five
occasions and the rest once, making in total 36 separate visits
where I spent a minimum of two hours on each visit but frequently
longer. In sum I spent approximately 100 hours in participant
observation in family homes.
A substantial amount of additional
participant observation took place in the context of public and
social events held within Edinburgh, such as numerous melas
(festivals), some held to celebrate the religious festivals
of Eid and on three occasions at the annual
concerts and fashion shows; Pakistan Day celebrations and
several wedding functions. My association with two young women’s
groups facilitated a further significant context for my participant
observation. One of these two groups –
who I refer to here, was involved in a photography project and I met
with them on a weekly basis over the eight-month period the project
ran. In addition to conversation and general discussion that took
place in the course of participant observation in the settings I
outline above, during the period of my fieldwork I conducted 34
pre-planned and audio-taped informal interviews and group
discussions with young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ (involving 59 young
people in total) as well as interviewing a number of parents and
others significant to my research focus. It is crucial to note,
with regard to my efforts here to ‘quantify’ my empirical work, that
the value of the data I present and discuss is derived from
sustained contact, involvement and ongoing discussion with several
young people (and some of their families) over a prolonged period of
According to the 2001 census Edinburgh has a
population of 448,624, some 3,928 of whom are categorised as
‘Pakistanis’. This latter figure, however, is lower than the
estimation of ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ who participated in my
fieldwork (and my own) who believed that there were in the region of
5,000 people of ‘Pakistani’ origin living in and around Edinburgh.
For the largest part ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’ originate from the Faisalabad
area in the Punjab, and most of these from rural areas rather than
overwhelming majority of ‘Scottish Pakistanis’ in Edinburgh are
‘Muslims’ and the largest numbers of these are Sunni,
although there are also a small number of Shia ‘Muslims’, and
an even smaller number of Ahmadi Muslims (SEMRU, 1987). There
are different traditions within the Sunni denomination from
Pakistan known as Devbandi and Bravlis.
Most, but not all, observant ‘Edinburgh Pakistani Sunni
Muslims’ are of the Bravali tradition. Among those who
participated in my research, varying degrees of religious observance
were apparent. However, almost all young people expressed respect
and regard for Islam, and aspirations to practice their faith.
It is noted elsewhere that there are two
main areas in Edinburgh where ‘Pakistani’ families live in greater
numbers: the south side of the city stretching over towards Gorgie
in the west, and the Leith/Broughton area (SEMRU, 1987:42). This
assessment is relative, however, because in contrast with most other
urban areas with ‘South Asian’ populations in Britain it is apparent
that there is not in fact any area in Edinburgh where ‘Scottish
Pakistanis’ live in any significant concentration, and that
they are spread over the city as a whole.
A reasonable standard of living and financial security was
enjoyed by the majority of participants in my study and this appears
to be reflected in the majority of ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ households.
All of the family homes I visited and spent time in were
owner occupied and situated in dispersed areas of Edinburgh, several
of which are considered affluent areas of the city and none are
perceived as underprivileged areas.
Their relative affluence allows for the
maintenance of various trans-local and trans-national links and
flows between ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ and others elsewhere. Moreover,
the relatively small size of both Edinburgh, its ‘Scottish
Pakistani’ population and their dispersal throughout the city
results in moderately high degrees of interaction and intimacies
between young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ and their ‘white Scottish’
peers. As a consequence of their situated experiences and their
technologically mediated communications and consumption of diverse
media young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ encounter a range of,
sometimes contradictory and juxtaposed, discourses of ‘identity’ and
Discourse, performance and
In my analysis of young ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’’ ‘identity’ negotiations I examine tensions between
agency and constraint by selectively drawing upon and developing a
number of theoretical conceptualisations relating to discourse,
performance, performativity and ‘audience/s’ (contexts) (e.g.
Butler, 1990; Cameron, 1998; Fortier, 1999; Goffman, 1959;
Schieffelin, 1998). In reviewing theoretical discussions surrounding
notions of performance and performativity, it is apparent that while
a number of academics and intellectuals are relevant to my arguments
they do not form a cohesive body of work. Broadly, however, they
share certain conceptions in common, which are germane to the thesis
I develop. Different theoretical approaches to the concepts of
performance and/or performativity agree that, to some extent, all
social behaviour is performed. Furthermore, most propose that such
‘performance is based upon some pre-existing model, script, or
pattern of action […]’ (Carlson, 1996: 15). It can be understood
that embedded within discourses of ‘identity’ are discursive
expectations and constraints, which translate into performative
scripts. The situated inter-ethnic interactions and ‘diverse
mobilities’ (Urry, 2000) that are characteristic of the lives of
young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ both expose them to multiple discourses
of ‘culture’, ‘identity’ and ‘community’ and heighten their
reflexivity. As such these young people become familiar with
different performative scripts.
For Goffman, performance involves what
he terms ‘idealisation’, meaning that the presentation of self ‘will
tend to incorporate and exemplify the officially accredited values
of the society’ (1959: 45). In this way it can be understood that
social performance reaffirms and reproduces these values, as well as
the ‘acts’ perceived as expressing them. For Butler (1990), gender
is performatively brought into embodied being. Rather than gender
‘identity’ producing gendered behaviour, she sees gender behaviour
constituting gender ‘identity’. Gender, then, is seen as the
effect of acts, practices, behaviour, and mannerisms etc. Its
performative ‘nature’, according to Butler, entails the repetitive
citing of discursive conventions. Discursive/performative
constructions of masculinities and femininities involve processes of
‘othering’ (cf. Whitehead & Barrett; 2001, Kimmel 2001), where
principally masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity and
vice versa. However, the discursive/performative production of
gendered identities is also implicated in the construction of ethnic
identities and vice versa.
Indeed, as Fortier (1999: 42) points out ‘gender regulation and
ethnic conventions relate to each other in […] simultaneous
performance’. It may be understood from various conceptualisations
that performance and/or performativity produce what is perceived of
as ‘reality’ - whether in terms of a particular social situation, or
social, gendered, ethnic, or other personal or collective,
‘identity’ or ‘culture’.
‘Performance’, it is argued, is always for
someone (cf. Carlson, 1996; Schieffelin, 1998; Abercrombie &
Longhurst, 1998) and further shared ground, implied in theories of
performance and/or performativity, pertains to the importance of the
relationship between performer and audience (cf. Carlson, 1996).
This relationship is highly significant to questions of agency and
constraint. Implied in
Goffman’s work, for example, both in
The presentation of self in everyday life (1959) and in
in public places (1963), and pertinent to
the interpretation of empirical data I offer here, is the
significance of context (entailing ‘audiences’) for performance. A
further point made by Goffman relating to context relevant to what I
say here about the management of plural identities by young
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ is that of ‘audience segregation’ (1959: 56).
According to Goffman, ‘audience segregation’ - keeping observers of
different presentations of ‘self’ separate - ‘is a device for
protecting impressions’ (ibid). I argue that ‘audience segregation’
is not only a strategy adopted by the young participants in my study
to cope with contradictory expectations and constraints, but can
also allow them to comfortably express their multiple identities and
senses of ‘belonging’. Strategically drawing upon their knowledge of
various discourses of ‘identity’, young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’
competently navigate the different cultural contexts they move
across. This is variously perceived and experienced by these young
people as an expression of their different identifications and/or an
expression of engagement with a particular cultural value that a
particular way of presenting ‘oneself’ is understood to signify
(although they may dispute the equation of a particular performative
code with a particular value). Moreover, context-specific
performances/identities can be perceived as an expression of young
people’s mature and knowing management of shifting environments.
Cameron (1998: 272) notes that in spite
of the regulatory force of discourse, and I would add the threat of
coercion, people are still conscious agents who ‘engage in acts of
transgression, subversion and resistance’. ‘Audience segregation’
strategies, and the skilful and purposeful deployment of their
familiarity with diverse discourses and performative scripts,
together with their tactical use of various communication
technologies, as I will outline, are used by young ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’ in such acts. Furthermore, while with regard to gender
performativity, Butler (1990: 47) argues that agency is severely
limited by iteration, she also refers to ‘strategies of subversive
repetition’. Such strategies offer some space for subversion, in so
far as certain types of performance
might disclose perfomativity and in turn disrupt all fixed
conceptions of gender classification. I argue that the juxtaposition
of different discourses of identities and belonging(s) which young
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ encounter, together with shifting
contexts/’audiences’ and their respective performative expectations
(that out of choice and/or necessity they regularly move across),
makes them particularly conscious of the performance of ‘identity’.
While such consciousness does not necessarily denote agency, indeed
it can be understood to be crucial to disciplinary power, it does
further promote reflexivity and such reflexivity is significant to
rethinking or reworking discourse and discursive/performative codes.
Gendered identities, izzat, gossip and surveillance
One reason ‘the local’ retains
significance in relation to cultures and identities despite
trans-national influences is because it involves face-to-face
relations where, as Hannerz (1996: 26) explains, ‘(p)eople can have
each other under fairly close surveillance’ and ‘(d)eviations can be
punished informally but effectively’.
A manifestly influential dynamic
in the lives of young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ is the
inter-relationship between gossip, the ‘South Asian’ value of
izzat and surveillance. The most common and often bitter
criticisms young participants levelled at other ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’ was that they gossip excessively. Almost all young
participants referred to ‘community gossip’ and the negative impact
it had upon their lives. It has long been argued that gossip serves
an important role in protecting the cohesion, integrity and
continuity of social groups (cf. Gluckman, 1963). It depends upon
insider familiarity with group values and ‘norms’ and, because its
subject matter frequently relates to non-compliance or transgression
of these, it works to continually reinforce them. Gossip also
operates as a form of social control, in that those group members
wanting to avoid being the subject of gossip will endeavour to
observe group ‘norms’. Furthermore, competition for status and
prestige between group members is regularly conducted and controlled
through gossip (cf. Gluckman, 1963). This view posits group unity
as the purpose of gossip. However, Paine (1967: 280) argues that
‘people gossip and also regulate their gossip to forward and protect
individual interests’. So while gossip may assert group values this
is done in the process of pursuing individual interests.
Pakistanis’ believe their experiences in Edinburgh differs from
other young ‘British Asians’ living in British cities where the
‘South Asian’ population is greater. They feel, because both the
city and its ‘Scottish Pakistani’ population are relatively small,
it is impossible to do anything without everyone else finding out.
Young people are discomforted by the fact they are recognised by
others of ‘Pakistani’ origin in Edinburgh
as ‘so and so’s’ son or daughter’. However, despite their belief
that their circumstances are distinct it is clear that anxieties
surrounding gossip are shared by young ‘British South Asians’
elsewhere. Gillespie (1993, 1995), for example, indicates how the
threat of gossip is pivotal in the lives of young ‘ English
Punjabis’ in Southall and how they experience it as an instrument of
Much of my findings in relation to the dynamics of gossip echo her
findings in this regard. This is not least because both groups share
an engagement with the ‘South Asian’ cultural concept of izzat.
Gillespie (1993: 33) explains the importance of izzat to
‘South Asian’ families:
Embedded within the term izzat […] is a cluster of religious,
moral, social and symbolic meanings: the sanctity of family life is
linked to the associated values of family honour, kinship, duty, and
respect. These safeguard a family’s internal, moral integrity; if
the sanctity of the family is maintained through the upholding of
these values, it will enjoy a good reputation, respect in the
community and therefore status and a ‘pure’ reputation.
centrality and importance of izzat to the ‘identity’ of many
Pakistanis’ makes it something to be upheld and protected and, if
possible, enhanced. A desire to augment izzat also motivates
rivalry between ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ families. Izzat, too,
is the impetus for demonstrations of wealth and prestige, often in
the form of conspicuous consumption, and a commonplace publicizing
of the educational achievements of children.[ix]
While respect and honour are the property of the family they also
relate to the individual and are embroiled in conceptions of
gendered ‘identity’. Izzat rests principally on the father
and male family members but it is most dependent upon how female
family members are perceived, especially unmarried females (cf.
Afshar, 1994). Izzat can be understood to compliment
conventional patriarchal discourses that construct femininity and
masculinity in mutually binding and unequal opposition. Embedded in
this cultural value, and articulated in much gossip among ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’, is a discourse pertaining to a particular idea of how ‘respectable
Asian/Muslim’ femininity should be manifest based partly on Islamic
teaching and partially on patriarchal conventions.[x]
This idea incorporates modesty in dress, appearance and manner,
respect for, and dependence on, male and elder family members and
chastity outside of marriage. It also locates women predominantly
within the domestic sphere, positing them as skilled in domestic
labour, pious and proficient in ‘cultural tradition’.
Young women have much to lose by failing to performatively
demonstrate ‘respectable Pakistani Muslim’ femininity. A
woman whose izzat is badly damaged and who is not respected
becomes vulnerable and devalued in the eyes of those who engage with
these discursive meanings. The following extract from a poem that
a member of a young woman’s group
let me read
reveals her acute understanding of this way of perceiving feminine
Izzat to a girl is like
piece of white paper
Once ink falls on it
It’s impossible to get it all off.
What makes a girl pure
What makes her best asset
Once lost – is irreplaceable.
Abu-Odeh (1996), regarding the performance of ‘Arab Muslim’ gendered
‘identity’, argues that the social space women are allowed to
occupy, together with a certain learned ‘bodily style’, symbolises
and publicises virginity. Furthermore, she contends that because
‘Arab’ men’s honour depends upon their female relatives’ chastity
and that the performance of masculinity inevitably involves the
control of female relatives. Afshar (1994: 129) notes that ‘Muslim’
women have conventionally been positioned as ‘both guardians and
guarded’ because they are seen as ‘the site of familial honour and
shame’. While, to a lesser extent, the behaviour and appearance of
young ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ men can impact negatively upon family
and personal izzat, both perceived family izzat and ‘respected
Pakistani Muslim’ masculinity are largely reliant upon the
performance of ‘Pakistani Muslim’ femininity and its control.
Although a way women themselves can collude in this control is
through gossip, it is among young women concern about gossip is most
acute. Young men also commonly complain about gossip’s damaging
potential but they are often clearly less concerned viewing it
instead with cynical amusement, as the following comments made by a
young man, Shabir, indicate:
It’s incredible I mean like you could spit on the street in
Portobello and Aziz would know in Juniper Green in a minute. It’s
Tied-up with the threat of gossip and the potential harm it can
cause to reputation and izzat is the issue of surveillance.
This inter-relationship represents a form of ‘disciplinary power’
(Foucault, 1977), particularly in the lives of young women.
Typically, this type of governance works by applying surveillance
and observation and power and knowledge in a way that individualises
its subjects (cf. Hall, 1992). It entails a process whereby the
expectation of surveillance becomes internalised by individuals and
they police their own behaviour (cf. Sarrup, 1993). Awareness that
they may be observed and talked about contributes to a heightened
consciousness, particularly among young women, of their appearance,
behaviour and actions. They develop an acute sensibility as a result
of the ever-present potential of being observed in public spaces.
Young women’s remarks relating to their reaction on suddenly
becoming aware they were the focus of other ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’’
gaze are suggestive of disciplinary power. For example Ruby, a young
female student, explained how she ran through a mental checklist of
- ‘am I dressed appropriately’ and ‘do my parents know where I’m
going’. While another young woman, Roshin explained:
Whatever you do before you do it, you have to think well what if
someone else was to see me, or you have to think about a lot of
other considerations even though I’m not trying to say that you want
to do something wrong.
related but more immediate sanction young people complained about
was being ‘stared at’ by older ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’.
Goffman (1963: 88) notes
that, because it causes unease, staring is an effective form of
social control of ‘improper’ public behaviour. Young people
frequently alluded to being stared at, particularly at functions, by
older people, often women. Nousheen, for example, explained:
They want you to know exactly what they
really think. If they’re looking at you and you turn round and catch
their eye they don’t look away. They make it more a point of staring
combination of surveillance and gossip, which derive their
controlling power from values embedded in izzat, may
also occasionally work coercively. One young man, Javed, for
example, when talking about his relationship with a young ‘Edinburgh
Pakistani’ women, related:
Somebody must have seen me and stuff and it really
got out of order. I suppose all these Asians got together and
started following me about in different cars and stuff and trying to
find out who she was and trying to get her parents - tell them to
get her sent back to Pakistan.
A few other
young people also alluded to this threat of being sent to Pakistan
and/or of being ‘married-off’ quickly without choice. A further
possible negative sanction young people referred to, was the
possibility of being disowned by family and ostracized by other
Young people are resentful about pressure other ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’ can exert on families and how some parents appear more
concerned about what others will say than for the happiness of their
children. They disapprove of what they see as an expectation on the
part of others for parents to disown their child should he or she do
something gravely harmful to their family’s reputation. Notably,
however, while I heard of this occurring in Edinburgh, among the
families I know of where a child transgressed expectations parents
either successfully kept it secret from others outside immediate
family and trusted friends or, when this was impossible, managed to
come to terms with the situation.
young women, failure to uphold family and personal izzat can
undermine their chances of making a ‘good’ marriage match. Parents,
out of concern for their daughter’s future well being, investigate
the reputation of a prospective son-in-law. However, young men’s
parents are also seeking to enhance their family’s izzat and
look for a daughter-in-law with an untarnished, respectable
reputation. The following quote from Roshin, made during a meeting
is illustrative of young women’s awareness of these factors:
You’ve got to be respectable, dignified
- all of these things. Never go out after ten o’clock you know - you
have to have a good reputation. And it’s all so if a proposal was to
come and they were to enquire about me, in a way they would – ‘oh
yeah she’s a good girl, she does all these good things, she’s got
all these good skills’.
Without minimising the persuasive force of potential negative
sanctions, a prevalent concern among young men and women
participants to protect their parents’ izzat out of love and
respect was apparent. The following quotes are indicative of the
ambivalence young people can experience regarding their parents’
izzat and of the impact that they can have upon it:
Zubeda: You don’t go out at night because people will talk. It would
bring shame to your house, and your parents. Parents would be
insulted. People don’t have respect. Izzat is such a big factor. I
understand the concept of izzat and I believe it but I find it
frustrating. […] I appreciate it but I find it annoying and
frustrating as well.
Shabir: You don’t disrespect your parents by having someone say
something about me, which would reflect bad on my parents. But it’s
also a case of - the double side of that is - that it is a bit of a
restriction in terms of like how you lead your life.
Shabir’s change in pronoun here is suggestive of a collective
recognition of, and a complex subjective engagement with, the
concept of family izzat I found among participants.
‘Pure identity’ pressure:
further potentially constraining discursive influence young
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ have to negotiate within the cognitive and
performative processes they are engaged in relates to persistent
absolutist discourses pertaining to ‘ethnic culture’ and ‘identity’.
These circulate in, sometimes over-lapping, dominant and ‘South
Asian diasporic’ communicative spaces.[xv]
The conception of binary opposing ‘South Asian’ and ‘western
values’, embedded in Orientalist and ‘pernicious
Occidentalist’ (Turner, 1994) discourses, which continue to have
currency in ‘Scottish’/’British society’ and among ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’ (and other ‘British South Asians’) respectively, fosters
this conception of pure, bounded and singular ethnic identities.
way that many young people’s engagement with these notions is
manifest is in their perception of ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ and other
‘British Asians’ who are considered as not conforming to ‘Pakistani’
or ‘South Asian culture’. Those known to distance themselves in some
way from ‘Asian culture’ are commonly suspected by their peers of
lacking pride in or being ashamed of their ‘culture’ or of their ‘Asianess’.
Not being proud of being ‘Asian’ or ‘Pakistani’, or of ‘your
culture’ is viewed as not knowing who you are - of being mixed-up,
both in terms of being confused and impure. Being perceived in this
way earns the label ‘coconut’, which is defined variously by young
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ as:
Being ashamed of your culture and not taking part in things because
of what white people will think.
An Asian who is brown in the outside and white inside.
Salma: Somebody who doesn’t have a clue, or doesn’t want to know
about our culture. Basically if you put Hindi music on or Pakistani
music on they go ‘What’s that? That’s crap’.
be perceived as being ashamed of ‘your culture’ or confused about
who you are, is viewed derisively. While revealing multiple
identifications, young participants frequently asserted a desire not
to be seen in this way. In conversational terms this was apparent in
their qualifying any criticism they made about ‘Asians’,
‘Pakistanis’ or ‘Asian/Pakistani culture’ with declarations of their
‘pride’ in these concepts. However, as will become apparent, it can
be the idea of ‘impure identity’ rather than the actual experience
of it that promotes discomfort. Indeed, some young people are
explicitly less daunted by hegemonic discourses that equate
plurality of ‘identity’ with uncertainty and contamination. The
following quote from a young female participant, Zubeda, talking
about her reflexive consideration of different meaning systems she
encountered over her teenage years, suggests such negative
definitions can be revised:
always discussed a lot and learnt from other people’s experience and
other people’s thoughts and you think about things and throughout my
teens at school. I know firmly that I am British Pakistani Muslim
Asian - whatever you want to say. But my roots is here. My history,
my parents history is from back wherever […]. It’s very mixed. I
appreciate both cultures. I don’t want to separate myself and just
identify myself with just Asians and Pakistanis, and I don’t want to
become too westernised and not respect my roots and everything. I
know I’m just me and I’m part of this third culture which is evolved
here and I can’t say I’m one or the other and I’m not equal parts of
each either. I wouldn’t say I’m confused now. I know firmly that’s
what I am and I’m very comfortable with it.
‘third culture’ Zubeda refers to was the title of a school essay she
had written a number of years earlier that she sent me to read, and
in which she discusses her experience of negotiating ‘British’ and
‘South Asian cultures’.
It represents another example of the reflexive sensibility regarding
‘identity’ evident among young participants. Difficulty arises,
however, for many young people out of the fact that their
experiences of ‘identity’ exceed the dominant discourses available
‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ men and women can be subject to pressure to
engage exclusively with ‘South Asian culture’ and, as I will go on
to explain, the former appear to be especially vulnerable to peer
pressure to conform to a particular ethnic masculinity. However,
young women experience most pressure from their families to conform
to a notion of an exclusive singular ‘ethnic identity’. Afshar
(1994: 130-1) explains that ‘(w)omen are the perceived transmitters
of cultural values and identities […]’ (cf. also Yuval-Davis, 1992).
The following extract from a discussion with two members of
explicit awareness of this:
Roshin: There is more pressure on the girls to behave more cultured,
you know Asian, than it is for guys. My brother probably has never
worn Asian clothes before and he’s not expected to either. But if we
were to go to a wedding - even at home we’re supposed to be wearing
Asian clothes. It’s really important for a girl to be very cultured
Sultana: It’s ‘cause it’s the girls that are continuing on the
generation so therefore the girls have to be shown as to be proper
all the way through.
Karen: The girls continue on the?
Sultana: Well it’s the girls who will get married and have children
of their own and bring up their children.
Karen: So it’s their responsibility?
Sultana: To keep the culture going […]. Because if you become
western you’ve lost all that so you won’t have it for your children.
Engagement with a discourse of ‘culture’ where it is seen as a
possession that can be at risk and needs protecting is clearly
apparent here. The fear of ‘loss’ works to perpetuate conceptions of
absolutist ‘culture’ and ‘identity’. It appears that ‘tradition’ is,
indeed, ‘coded as feminine’ (Morley: 2000: 65). Here young woman
are centrally positioned in the preservation and continuity of
Young male peers and respect
Varying degrees of exhibitionism, along with mutual approval and
recognition, appear to be key factors in the performative
construction of youthful ethnic masculinity among many young
‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ men. The respect and recognition
young men strive for and confer upon each other appears to be the
product of what is commonly recognised as (sometimes exaggerated)
performance. It seems that respect and recognition ensues from
knowing what and how to perform. This form of youthful ethnic
masculinity involves a process of reverse othering where it
is defined in relations of distinction from ‘white’ youth ethnic
masculinities. Simultaneously, it involves identification with a
particular ‘black’ youth masculinity. Such distinctions, in addition
to being implicit in the conception of coconut, can be
explicitly referred to, as Javed does here:
Like rave music, we’re not into that.
Like when we’re out we’re dressed up
[...] they’ll (‘white Scottish’ youth) just wear anything sort of
thing. They’re not into jewellery and everything, designer gear
we’re different in that sense.
Identification with ‘black youth culture’ is evident in many young
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’’ taste in film and music. It is further
enacted in the fashion and style several young ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’
men adopt and in public displays of affability, involving gestures
such as hand slapping, and in the common use of certain phrases such
as ‘yo’, ‘my man’ and ‘kick it to the kerb’.
Young men revealed the importance they accord to fashion, style and
image. Javed and his friend Manzoor, for example, described the type
of clothes and jewellery they and others like to wear:
Javed: I think most Asians like they’ve kind of got
their own style.
Karen: Tell me about it?
Manzoor: We are always wearing baggy kind of stuff.
Javed: Like say you wouldn’t catch many Asians wearing
tight jeans and
trainers and things. That’s not like their sort of style
like kind of Afro-American style. […] See with Asians I
think it is just probably the way they’ve been brought up sort of
they don’t really
like to be scruffy. That (points to a gold neck
chain he is wearing)
every Asian has got that from Pakistan, like rings […] everyone does
have a chain, a nice watch, things like that.
young male participants viewed this conscious identification with
‘black youth culture’ critically. Their criticism, again, reflected
concerns about ‘loss’ of some essential ‘ethnic identity’ and the
imitation of another ethnicity. The following remarks, made by
a man of 28, in conversation with two friends, where he is relating
comments he made to some younger men, are indicative of this
goes ‘you’re talking black, you’re trying to be black, dress black,
and would you ever see a black guy trying to talk Pakistani? Would
you ever see like a white guy trying to talk Pakistani?’ I goes ‘why
are you trying to lose your identity?’ I goes ‘what you have you
should keep it rather than losing it to some other people who are
not going to copy you’.
friends, Shabir and Iqbal, went on to offer their explanation for
younger men’s identification with ‘black youth culture’:
They don’t feel their identity is strong enough so they copy someone
else’s […]. They look at themselves and it’s all a case of having
attitude, you know being a man.
The only reason they act black is because of attitude that’s what
all this rap music, everything is - attitude.
of ‘attitude’ and an apparent desire to maintain respect and
be perceived as ‘hard’ sometimes results in groups of young
‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ men fighting with each other or occasionally
with young ‘Scottish Pakistani’ men from Glasgow. For example, on
the evening of a small mela, held in the grounds of Drummond
Community school in Edinburgh in 1998, a fight broke out between
‘Scottish Pakistani’ youths leading to minor injuries, arrests and
the cancellation of the scheduled concert. I had attended this event
but left before the fighting began and had to rely on a number of
differing versions of what had transpired conveyed to me by others.
Common elements from these accounts indicated that hostilities
involved young men from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and related to the
latter’s response to the behaviour of the former towards some young
‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ women. Salma, a young woman who had witnessed
these events, told me:
Glasgow guys were pestering Edinburgh girls and some Edinburgh guy
went to assist them. The thing is Edinburgh guys do that as well -
they tease girls but if a Glasgow guy does it suddenly all Edinburgh
girls are their sisters!
important facet of masculine ‘identity’, for young ‘Edinburgh
Pakistani’ men incorporates the notion of personal izzat - or
respect in two related ways, which can be understood to
parallel their fathers’ engagement with this concept. Firstly,
recognition and respect are exchanged between peers - they
are given to and received from each other. Secondly, they are seen
to accrue from the presentation of ‘self’, not only in terms of
fashion and style but in the projection of a macho attitude and from
the conspicuous possession of particular commodities such as gold
jewellery, mobile phones and prestigious cars. The symbolic value of
these possessions are widely recognised and acknowledged by young
men who identify their self-presentation as ‘posing’. Javed, for
example, explained that this was the purpose of having a mobile
main thing is it’s posing [...] it’s like a clip on their belt but
they have got it on incoming calls only, sort of thing, so they
don’t get a bill.
asked Javed whom the boys were posing for and he told me:
Mostly girls, it is each other as well like you’ll get
recognised by your car -
It’s like pride, respect, what they call izzit.
It’s like keeping your respect up sort of thing. Like people kind of
look up to you.
reported that what they refer to, as cruising - driving around
without the purpose of reaching a particular destination - is
something they enjoy. Iqbal, Ashfaq
and Shabir talked about the meaning of owning or driving a
Ashfaq: You kind of get respect with the car you drive.
Iqbal: I think image equals respect actually […]
Shabir: A friend of mine has got a BMW, he bought the basic car and
he did it up to look like the top of the range one. And for him this
is his respect because he drives around in this car and he gets
looks from - I mean Asian girls give him looks, Asian guys go up to
him and go ‘great car’. Like even like the British people check his
car when he goes past a light and he knows this. And you can see it,
you sit in the car and people look.
Shabir went on to explain how his friend cleaned and cared for his
car and, using a telling simile, the value he invested in it:
It’s his pride and joy. It’s his woman - to an extent
it’s like his honour.
several occasions I overheard young men in conversation with each
other refer to their own or others cars as ‘a babe’ and as ‘being
‘code-switching’ (Rampton, 1995) is a feature of young ‘Edinburgh
Pakistani’ men’s talk with each other where they change from English
to Punjabi and Urdu and it is expressive of their hybrid cultures
and plural identities. Several young men and women told me that
groups of ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ students, principally young men, who
attend different institutions of higher and further education in the
city regularly converge on one or other of these institutions -
often Napier or Herriot Watt
where they sit together in noisy exclusive groups
in the refectory. ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ women students described
how they found this embarrassing because they felt young men drew
attention to themselves by their boisterous behaviour and by talking
loudly in Punjabi. Whereas a young male student, Zaman, explained:
all get together and we’ll have a laugh about something or other, as
in you’ll have a conversation and you’ll say things, which only
means something to an Asian. As like a joke, someone says something
in Punjabi or Urdu which obviously if you said the same thing in
English it would fall totally flat.
These young students’ behaviour might be an assertive display of
their collective presence and ‘difference’ for the benefit of other
students. However, boisterousness and reverting to Punjabi within
youthful male peer interaction is part of a camaraderie that is both
performative of ‘Scottish Pakistani’ youthful masculinity and fun.
contexts for the performance of youthful masculinity:
Some young ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ men do not conform to this form of
ethnic masculinity - they do not engage with the style and
consumption practices, which signify these identifications. Others,
while they enjoy the collective expression of this distinct ethnic
masculinity in particular contexts, perform different
identifications in other contexts. For example, one young man,
attended his school leaving Prom with his predominantly ‘white
Scottish’ classmates wearing Scottish Highland dress. This
being said, however, large social gatherings of ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’, particularly those featuring concerts, are contexts in
which many young men exhibit the youthful masculine ethnic
identities I discuss above. ‘Pleasure (in) being watched’ (cf.
Hebdige, 1988) is evident among young men in these settings, which
allow for mutual observation between peers. At these gatherings
groups of young men dressed in pristine smart-casual designer label
many wearing tan coloured Timberland boots; with styled and
gelled hair, intricately shaped side-burns and sometimes beards and
moustaches; some with baseball caps, some with bandannas tied around
their heads; most with mobile phones visible on their person and
often in use, can be observed walking around or standing together.
They can, too, be seen to engage in displays of fraternity where
they greet each other with handshakes and embraces and, in addition
to gestures such as hand slapping, they occasionally ‘play box’.
Edinburgh Mela fashion show was popular with young people
during the period of my fieldwork and a number normally took part as
models. Groups of young men would sit together in the audience and
whistle and clap at female models but their most enthusiastic
response wass reserved for the young ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ men who
often model clothes with visibly more confidence than their female
peers. These young men, dressed variously in ‘western’ youth
fashion, shalwar kameez, smart suites and Scottish
Highland dress, strutted and danced on stage, exuding
self-esteem to the rapturous applause and calls from their male
friends in the audience. In the 1998 Edinburgh Mela fashion
show five young ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ men participated in a dance
routine to a James Bond theme tune, dressed in dark suits,
wearing dark glasses and carrying ‘hand-guns’ - reminiscent of
characters in the Hollywood film Men in Black. Their
enjoyment in performing and the appreciation of their male peers in
the audience was clearly apparent.
Several young men also publicly express their ethnic masculinity, in
these contexts, at concerts by dancing in groups in front of the
stage where the band is playing. Their dancing usually incorporates
elements of bhangra - at which some are very skilled - is
also exhibitionist (the movements having both a sexual and
aggressive quality). Most participants in my study identified with
Islam and consider religion important. Some strict interpretations
of Islam do not allow dancing or, indeed, permit music. While a few
‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ families would avoid these gatherings because
of this, most would attend. It is my experience, nevertheless, that
several of the parental generation criticise young men for dancing
at these gatherings and for their public behaviour more generally.
However, because young men’s behaviour is less threatening to family
izzat it is largely viewed more indulgently than that of
their female peers, and so these factors tend to present limited
constraints to young men within this context.
Undoubtedly young men’s performance at these gatherings is partly
for the benefit of the young women who are present but the pivotal
‘audience’ for the performance of this particular ethnic masculinity
are other young ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ men. Masculinity here is
clearly a ‘homosocial enactment’ (Kimmel, 2001) because it is other
young men’s evaluation that is crucial to the success of this
performance. It is their expectations that matter most in this
context because it is their respect that is sought. It is the
sanctions of ridicule and insult which peers can confer that can act
as incentives to conform.
Negotiating contradictory ethnic femininities
set of discursive expectations denoting ‘respectable
Pakistani Muslim’ femininity I refer to above are complicated by a
further set of discursive expectations relating to physically
attractiveness. Young ‘Scottish Pakistani’ women are subjected to a
continual bombardment of messages about supposed ideals of physical
appearance from various forms of media (as, indeed, all women are),
including ‘Hindi’ films. These incorporate certain physical
characteristics seen to signify ‘beauty’. Principally these are
fairer, rather than darker, skin
and the absence of obvious facial down. Physical attractiveness,
although less so than respectability, can also be a
consideration in seeking rishtas (marriage matches). Parents,
as well as young men, take account of the physical appearance of
prospective brides. Large social gatherings, in particular weddings,
are increasingly seen as settings where potential brides may be
discovered, perhaps by or among visiting relatives and friends of
the wedding party. The following extract from a group discussion
with members of
indicates one way
these two sets of expectations are negotiated in public settings.
Roshin: It makes you feel so uncomfortable if you go
to a wedding, that’s the worst. We went to this wedding in London
and at the end of the wedding, you know, you end up with like six
different people interested. You know it sounds really horrible
(Sultana: Yeah) it’s just like you’re sort of like a showpiece and
everyone is looking at you with the intention of – ‘she’d do’ or
‘she’d do’. I have even noticed – my mum doesn’t do this thank God!
But I know other women they do it to their girls, they’ll sort of
decorate them in a way when they take them to the wedding. You know
make them more attractive.
Karen: What do you mean decorate?
Roshin: Will make sure that they look really really good.
Sultana: That they are dressed well, they’re looking pretty and
they’re acting right within the wedding setting.
Roshin: Yeah so people might be interested in them.
Sultana: So if anyone is looking they
will see someone who will maybe stand out a bit more as being
prettier, as being quieter you know just sort of sitting in the
corner not doing anything.
On another occasion, Roshin, remarking
on the incongruity of the presentation of young women in these types
of setting, said: ‘they need to be hidden but it isn’t really hidden
– it’s sort of coy – hidden and being seen’. It seems that young
women can be expected to attract attention by appearing not to!
Young women, however, are just as likely to want to present
themselves attractively within these settings for the pleasure of
‘dressing-up’ and the enjoyment of expressing their youthful
femininity. A balance between respectability and
attractiveness depends upon an understanding of subtle
distinctions in clothes, jewellery and make-up and the meanings
invested in these. For example, it is considered inappropriate for
young unmarried women to dress too conspicuously or to wear a lot of
jewellery and make-up, as Zubeda explained, when I was visiting her
and her mother:
People talk if you get dressed up and you’re not married. There are
unwritten rules and older women criticise young women if a young
women wears make-up and jewels – and an over the top glittery suit.
It’s not right for an unmarried girl to be dressed up. An unmarried
girl should be simpler. […] A girl who’s unmarried and dresses
up-to-the-nines – people wouldn’t give her respect.
Most young women participants expressed and/or revealed an interest
in both ‘South Asian’ and ‘western’ fashion. Wearing shalwar
kameez is common for most young women in social gatherings of
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ and is often expected at home. Young
unmarried women are most likely to be expected by parents to dress
in shalwar kameez in particular contexts. The idea that young
women will be allowed more freedom in what they wear, whether they
have their hair cut and, indeed, in going out when they are married
is one that mothers often attempt to encourage their daughters with.
Many married young women I know do enjoy more independence of choice
than single women.
long skirts and tops are typical for most young ‘Edinburgh
Pakistani’ women at school, college and university or at work, and
when out with friends. All young women, who talked to me about their
taste in ‘western’ clothes, indicated ‘modesty’ was an equal
consideration to style. This means legs and arms covered and
garments that are not too fitting. Young women mentioned the
difficulty they found in trying to find long skirts without deep
slits in the back - a style fashionable during a period of my
fieldwork. This idea of modesty in appearance also includes wearing
hair long and in a controlled fashion. Wearing hijab (head
garment covering the hair, prescribed for women within Islamic
teaching) or a scarf was very uncommon in Edinburgh at the beginning
of my fieldwork, particularly among younger women. It became
slightly more common later in my research. At wedding celebrations
women guests tend to pull their dupatas (long scarves) over
their heads when the imman (man who leads prayer) recites the
prayer and remove it again when he is finished.
Most young women who attend large social gatherings and concerts,
such as I describe above, will stand or sit together in groups with
sisters, cousins and/or friends. Although many appreciate and
identify with the music that feature in many such gatherings and
some would like to dance, very few do. They tend to confine
themselves to clapping while sitting. The likely consequences of
them dancing would be damage to their own and their families
reputation. Whether or not their parents witnessed their behaviour
they would soon hear about it and the majority of young women would
get into serious trouble as result. Some young women feel frustrated
at this restriction and resentful that their male peers are free to
dance. They do not think there is anything intrinsically wrong with
dancing. However, their restraint is often partly motivated by a
desire to respect their parents and/or to be seen to respect them.
Other young women see dancing in this context (i.e. in the company
of men) as wrong and not something decent young women would
do. In both cases young women’s presentation of ‘self’ can be
understood to reflect their conscious, and at least partial,
identification with the notion of respectability.
Indeed, the majority of young women strive to present themselves as
respectable in contexts involving mixed gender and
generational ‘audiences’. Although this can principally be because
of the likely consequences if they do not, it is also just as likely
to be because they engage with an element of ‘South Asian/Muslim
culture’ that centres on respect for parents and equates this with
adherence to parental wishes and concern for parents’ izzat.
They do this by complying with established codes of dress and
behaviour conventionally understood to signal these characteristics.
Displaying respect for parents in public performances of ‘self’ both
communicates identification, and protects and potentially enhances
their parents’ and their own izzat. As I have suggested,
too, some young women choose to express themselves in a particular
way because they subjectively engage more comprehensively with a
series of ‘religious’ and ‘cultural meanings’ invested in the dress,
deportment, demeanour and actions of young women.
Regardless of the motivation behind performances of respectable
feminine ethnicity, young women are critically reflexive about, and
often contest, what signifies respectability. What
constitutes ‘respectable Scottish Pakistani Muslim’
femininity and how this can be expressed is being reflexively
reworked by young ‘Scottish Pakistani Muslim’ women. In terms of
dress for instance, early on in my research it was rare to see any
young women at social gatherings of ‘British Pakistanis’ dressed in
anything other than shalwar kameez, however, as my fieldwork
progressed this became less rare. For example, at an evening
function in the summer of 1999 held at Meadowbank Stadium a number
of young women were dressed in long skirt suites or long skirts with
contrasting long-line jackets and chiffon duppatas draped
over their shoulders.
Also, in the
summer of 1998 short-sleeved kameez became fashionable in
Pakistan and in some other parts of Britain but few young women wore
these in Edinburgh at gatherings such as weddings where men were
present and those who did were subject of criticism. However, by the
summer of 1999 I observed several young women wearing this style of
kameez at weddings including one young woman, Ruby, who had
told me the previous year:
I go to a wedding and I see – like I really don’t think it’s right
when you go to a wedding and you see girls wearing short sleeves.
‘identity’ performative codes young women challenge, however, are
not only those that some of their parents engage with. They, also,
include those reflecting ethnocentric and exclusive notions of
‘Scottish’/’British’ national belonging. During the course of
general conversation, group discussion and interviews some young
women indicated they felt, or had felt in the past, discomfort
wearing ‘traditional’ clothes in the company of their ‘white
British’ peers. Salma, for instance, told me on two different
occasions (indicating how much it had affected her) that when she
was younger she would change into shalwar kammez on returning
from school. One evening after school she went to a local shop
wearing these clothes and met a classmate who subsequently ridiculed
her. She recalled how hurt she felt at the time but explained that
latter when studying at college she defiantly wore shalwar
kammez to lectures and classes. In a similar vein, another young
woman, Aziza, asserted that even in a setting where no-one else was
wearing shalwar kameez she would do so, saying: ‘a
thousand people there and nobody wearing traditional clothes I could
walk in and I would wear it’.
One way some young people attempt to
transgress discursive and coercive constraints on their performance
of gendered selves is by avoiding contexts where they are likely to
be seen by other ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’, particularly those of the
Many young women, for instance,
articulate discomfort about being in public places where there is a
concentration of ‘South Asians’. For example, Zubeda described how
she felt about Leith Walk:
There’s Leith Walk and there’s a lot of Asian community there and I
don’t really want to go there […]. I don’t like going anywhere where
there is too many Asians. They just look at you. All Asians when
they see another Asian they all just stare.
Young women’s efforts to steer clear of public settings where they
may be seen by other ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ are often motivated by a
desire to evade any possibility of becoming the subject of gossip.
Other young people do so because they wish to express aspects of
themselves that would be intolerable and dangerous if witnessed by
older ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’. For example, I heard of, and
occasionally observed for myself, young ‘Edinburgh Pakistani’ women
who breach performative expectations to dress in a manner viewed as
‘modest’. Such young women dressed in fashionable ‘western’ style
clothes that would be considered revealing. A few young women who
attended one of the city’s universities were ‘notorious’ for
dressing in this way. They were known to change, after leaving home,
from clothing their parents found acceptable. However, while their
activities appeared to evade their parents’ knowledge these young
women were criticised several times in my company by other young
people. For example, Zubeda who attended the same institution,
during a conversation, complained:
They leave home wearing one thing and then change and put their slap
on at university. In the middle of winter they wear a semi-boob tube
or something, or tight skirt. Which even British people look at and
think ‘oh my God’. I saw a group of Asian girls dressed
up-to-the-nines and this group of white British men were calling
them slappers and tarts.
Also, at certain
types of gatherings in Edinburgh, such as Edinburgh Mela
concerts, a few young women can be seen joining young men in front
of the stage and dancing. However, most of these will have travelled
through from Glasgow for the occasion. Their relative anonymity in
Edinburgh freeing them from constraints that other young women are
Young men, too, endeavour to avoid being seen by older ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’ when they are participating in activities prohibited
within the discursive expectations their parents subscribe to, such
as ‘clubbing’, drinking and dating. One young man, Akbar, for
instance, related the reasons why his friends prefer to frequent a
cinema complex on the outskirts of the city instead of one in the
is a popular cinema with Asians. If they go to the cinema some of
them might want to take their girlfriends. If you go to the Odeon
you might get seen if you go to Toll Cross you might get seen so
they go to UCI.
Despite discursive proscriptions, which dictate that respectable
single young women should not express (or even experience!)
interest in the opposite sex, various functions and gatherings are
widely understood by young people to present opportunities for both
sexes ‘to check out the talent’ - as a number of young people put
it. Occasionally at such gatherings a few young women noticeably
present themselves in such a way as to attract attention by
continually walking to and fro in front of groups of youths or
sitting close to them, chatting to them and exhibiting flirtatious
body language. However, exhibiting anything more than restrained
looks at young men in these contexts exposes young women to ridicule
among their peers and the parental generation, and potentially to
the consequences I outlined earlier.
Nevertheless covert interaction at such occasions and introductions
in other contexts can lead to the initiation of ‘illicit’
relationships between young men and women. For example, Javed
described how young men might instigate relationships of this kind:
Guys usually meet girls at the Mela or university or in town. They
don’t want their parents to see them. Say at the Mela they would
call them over somewhere no one could see them and speak to them and
ask them out or whatever and then leave a number with them so they
could phone them. The girl wouldn’t leave a number unless she had a
In the light of
discursive and coercive prohibitions pertaining to relationships
between the sexes outside of marriage, the viability of such
relationships is disproportionately dependent upon communication
technology. Indeed, I was told on several different occasions that
‘phone relationships’ were commonplace. Here the mobile phone, in
particular, can be seen to potentially facilitate a surveillance
free environment for conducting and arranging romantic
interactions that transgress proscriptions on gender performance.
The possession of this technology is extensive among young
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ and in some cases parents were unaware their
offspring owned these phones. Even when parents knew their children
had access to this technology young people found it useful to
receive and make calls without their parents’ knowledge. For
example, during a visit to a family home,
one of the daughters
intimated she had
just bought a mobile phone. I asked her why she wanted a mobile
phone and she explained that it was so people could phone her
without her parents’ knowledge and so she could phone others without
these calls appearing on the family’s itemised phone bill.
Actually meeting up and spending time with boyfriends or girlfriends
is a difficult and risky enterprise. However, it is clear that such
relationships can and do exceed the boundaries of technologically
mediated contexts. This is evidenced not least by the growing number
among young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ of what are described by
participants as love marriages, which differ from
‘traditionally arranged marriages’. Ideally the latter entails
parents or other relatives seeking out a suitable partner and
introducing the prospective couple. If they agree to marriage, the
couple then have limited contact with one another prior to their
wedding. Romantic love may develop after the marriage ceremony. Such
arrangements were acceptable to many young participants. They see
them as a practical means of meeting a compatible life partner and
strenuously distinguish ‘arranged marriages’ from ‘forced
marriages’, which they see as wrong and an unfair fixation of
‘British’ media. Interestingly, even those participants who told me
they themselves had love marriages asserted that they did not
object to ‘traditionally arranged marriages’ in principle.
order to subvert constraints on meeting up and spending time
together young people are obliged to go to some lengths to avoid
being seen. One young married women participant, for example, told
me how she and her boyfriend (now husband) would skip lectures at
university to spend a couple of hours together by driving to one of
the small coastal towns south of Edinburgh. Zubeda explained how her
friends managed to ‘date’:
What they do is – if they are at university together that’s fine -
they sit in the canteen together or they go for drives. (T) used
meet him (T’s boyfriend) in like a hospital café or sit in the park.
As we heard,
however, from Javed’s experience related above, it is difficult to
avoid being seen in Edinburgh and gossip spreads quickly among
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’. Young people, particularly women, have much
at stake in avoiding observation.
Young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ frequently recognise their own and
others’ performances of ‘identity’ as performances. For
example, young men and women largely perceive young men’s behaviour
and appearance in the types of context I outline above as affected
and exaggerated. One way that recognition of performance is evident
is in young people’s self-directed racist use of the term Typical
Paki or TP. Young ‘British Pakistanis’ attribute the
label TP to various types of behaviour, appearances and
tastes, and to people who enact, present, and engage with these.
Like other ‘identity’ concepts there is some difference and debate
about its meaning. Sometimes young participants use it to describe
someone who is perceived of as lacking fashion sense or savvy.
Young people also use TP humorously when alluding to ways of
doing things they mutually view as idiosyncratic of their parents’
generation or of ‘South Asian culture’. The following extract, from
a conversation between young men and women students where they
recall childhood family outings, is suggestive of the enjoyment
young people get from this kind of shared recognition:
Najma: We used to have about three cars and there used to be about
five families and we all used to crush in together (laugh).
Asad: It wasn’t like three people in the
car it was like ten in the car - hundreds of us. […]
Salma: We went to Inverness, Fort William with about three families,
and we made like rice and curries.
TP TP TP.
Salma: How worse is that.
No that’s not TP at all (sarcastic tone)
Salma: TP - typical Paki sorry.
Another significant use of the term TP by participants was to
refer to young ‘British Pakistanis’ and other ‘British South Asians’
who engage with specific gendered, ethnic identities and to the
fashions, tastes, display of communicative technologies and public
performances that are understood to manifest this engagement. These
include the presentation of ethnic masculinity outlined above. This
label is also applied to the way some young women present
themselves. The following extract, from a conversation with Roshin
and Zarina, offers a summary of what is seen by young people to
warrant this classification.
Roshin: I got this email once and it says ‘the ten
typical Pakistani things’.
Zarina: Bleached hair (Roshin: bleached hair) streaks of
bleached hair, contact lenses.
Roshin: There was this list of ten things - you have to have a
mobile or a pager, for a girl you have to have dyed hair and you
have (Zarina: permed hair or something) permed hair and it’s got to
be dyed and em (Zarina: red lipstick) red lipstick always and
Zarian: You have to dress up for uni like you’re going
to a party (laugh)
Roshin: Yeah you always have to be over dressed. For a guy you’ve
got to have a mobile, a pager, wear lots of gel in your hair.
Zarina: Yeah. You have to swear in Asian.
Roshin: You have to swear in your own language and you wear lots of
gold (Zarian: and rings or something) chains and stuff. You hang
around with like ten other Asian guys. You don’t go on your own
anywhere sort of. Some of it is quite true.
Zarina: It is actually true it is.
Karen: Who sent that to you?
Roshin: It was an Asian person it was a guy who sent it
Young people who want to distance themselves from others sometimes
use the classification TP but those who consciously and
intentionally conform to the criteria perceived of as being TP
can also use it. Zarina, for example, on another occasion, told me:
‘I’m a bit TP’. She often wore blue contact lenses and, when I was
in her company, she continually checked her mobile phone. Partly, in
their construction of stereotypical notions of themselves and their
self-referential humour (not dissimilar in character to the
television satire Goodness Gracious Me) young ‘British
Pakistanis’ are defusing the capacity of others to ascribe racist
definitions to them while demonstrating the self-confidence to laugh
at themselves. However, I would argue that they are also revealing a
reflexive recognition of ‘identity’ as performed.
is argued elsewhere that contextual shifting can be unconscious (cf.
Vertovec & Rogers 1998). While code switching is frequently taken
for granted among young participants in my study, they are regularly
aware of altering their presentation of selves. The ability of young
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ to respond to disparate contexts
appropriately is itself a factor generating consciousness of the
performance of ‘identity’. Young women particularly appear to be
sensitive to contextual shifts in their ‘self’ presentation. The
juxtaposition of often contradictory versions of femininity that
young women contend with in their everyday lives, and the burden of
responsibility for their family’s, their male relatives and their
own reputation, makes their performance of identities more conscious
than it appears to be for their male peers. Young women participants
frequently alluded to, not only their purposeful alternation of
dress between ‘traditional’ and ‘western’ style
clothes depending upon their environment, but also to accompanying
changes in their manner and behaviour. These different performances
can also entail distinctions in speech and language, as Roshin
reflexively identifies here:
think there is a role change as soon as you walk inside home […]. I
think it’s probably you’re speaking a different language so you
start playing that thing and when you get home you start speaking
Punjabi or whatever. I know with some of my friends they do that as
well – they’re speaking to their friends and they’ve got this very
strong Scottish accent and as soon as they come home they start
speaking Punjabi you know and it’s almost as if their character
completely changes. I’ve noticed some of them the way they’re
talking to me they’re ‘ye all right’ (assertive/aggressive tone)
this and that and then they call their mum’s and it’s very subdued
and humble and ‘I’m a really good girl’ kind of thing. It’s quite
funny most people we play two different roles one’s for outside and
the other’s for you know their family.
women, particularly, become highly proficient at adapting
appropriately to the divergent environments they find themselves in.
However, for the reasons discussed, the extent to which their
performances and, indeed, those of their male peers represent free
agency to engage with different forms of femininity and masculinity
varies according to context/’audience’.
Segregated ‘audiences’ for managing
This being said, it is erroneous to interpret the
shifting, and even exaggerated, character of
‘identity’ performances among these young people as
either always compelled or as principally representing an
inauthentic ‘act’. Intentionally presenting themselves in particular
ways in particular contexts often represents their complex,
subjective engagement with at least some aspect of ‘ethnic identity’
or ‘culture’ that a particular way of ‘acting’ is understood to
signify. For example, masculine respect in the case of young
men or respect for parents in case of young women. Also, conscious
context shifting performances articulate young people’s sensitivity,
knowingness and skills relating to ‘situational propriety’ (Goffman,
Significantly these conscious shifts are also a means
whereby young people can comfortably express different facets of
their plural identities.
Webner (1996: 56.
cf. also 2002) notes that ‘British Pakistanis are, simultaneously,
Punjabis, more or less Westernized’, and that ‘(t)hey manage these
by creating different domains of activity and keeping these domains
separate’. In the
following quote Nousheen alludes to this type of identity
myself as a British female with Pakistani origins and Pakistani
family and traditions. So […] I have my British life and I have my
Pakistani life - the two of them. If I was to start saying I don’t
want anything to do with culture and tradition, I probably wouldn’t
get anywhere but the way my life is it works quite well. I have one
side of it and the other side. […] Our work life is mainly non-Asian
and our family life is Asian and our social life is a mix of both.
It works quite well for us.
keeping ‘audiences’ separate is not always possible, particularly
given the modest dimensions of Edinburgh and its ‘Scottish
Pakistani’ population. Haleema, recalling an experience when she was
younger, illustrated this fact:
I remember going to Craiglochart
I don’t know who was playing tennis, but we went up to see it and I
was wearing a shalwar kameez at the time and I bumped into some
girls from school and I was mortified.
Difficulties associated with successful ‘audience
one factor in the lives of young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ that can
serve as an incentive to re-work deterministic, bounded and opposing
gendered ethnic ‘identity’ discourses.
It can be seen that
young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’’
performances of gendered ethnicity can re-affirm, but also, oppose
established or conventional discursive and performative scripts.
Disciplinary power resulting from a combination of izzat,
gossip and surveillance, and the threat of coercion, together with
prevalent discursive meanings associated with ‘authenticity’ and
‘purity’ comes to bear upon their ‘identity’ performances within
certain contexts. The relationship between ‘performers’ and
‘audience/s’ is of critical importance to the freedom these young
people have to choose how they present their identities within
particular settings. However, their performative engagement with
various discursive and cultural codes is not straightforward. Often
young ‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ attempt to subvert scrutiny, sometimes
by means of telephony and other communication technologies, and so
transgress gender, ethnic and religious performative codes.
Furthermore, the juxtaposition of different performative codes,
coupled with alternating ‘self’ presentations, frequently make young
people conscious of their own and other performances of ‘identity’
as performances. This does not necessarily signify
artificiality or insincerity but rather can denote partial
engagements, ‘cultural navigational skills’ (Ballard 1994),
acute sensitivity to context and plural identifications. Their
reflexivity is also significant to rethinking or reworking
discourses of gendered ethnicity and discursive/performative codes.
As I hope to demonstrate further in detail elsewhere, the
inter-relationship between reflexivity and performance - between
reflexive cognition and embodiment - among the young participants in
my study promotes cognitive review and performative revision. In
turn, this can have a (re)formative influence on established
discourses of ‘identity’ and ‘belonging’ themselves, and on their
While, for the most part, I refer to participants in my study as
‘Edinburgh Pakistanis’ no singular label can incorporate all the
identities of an individual or group of people. It should be
noted, therefore, that my use of this term is pragmatic and is
not meant to signify a consistent emphasis on local and/or
national identifications. With a view to signalling the
contingency of identifications, and the essentialising and
homogenising tendency inherent in ‘identity’ labels such as
‘Edinburgh Pakistani/s’, I place these within inverted commas.
In recognition of the plurality (and the constructed, dynamic
character) disguised by terms such as ‘identity’ this term and
others of a problematic nature are placed in inverted commas.
The Edinburgh Mela is an annual festival held in the city
principally involving the city’s ‘Pakistani’ population.
Payan is a pseudonym for this group.
The construction of gendered identities is also caught up with
the construction of class (cf. Skeggs, 1997) and sexual
identities (cf. Kimmel, 2001).
Butler refers to drag performances.
also Vertovec (1998) regarding gossip and social control.
Baumann (1996) argues the cultural value if izzat is as
much about giving respect to others as receiving it.
Significantly, in terms of binary oppositions that are commonly
perceived to define ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ conceptions of
identities, Skeggs (1997: 115) points out the centrality of
‘respectability’ in relation to the construction of class and
gender in England, where ‘to claim respectability, disavowal of
the sexual is necessary and constructions, displays and
performance of feminine conduct are seen as necessary’.
All participants’ names have been changed to protect their
Portobello is southeast of the city some distance apart from
Juniper Green, which is in the southwest of the city.
The notion of ‘nazar-e-bad’ (evil eye) may be relevant here but
participants did not make this explicit.
Afshar (1994: 33) notes that ‘(s)hame amongst Muslim minorities is an
almost unforgivable crime: the group is merciless and
unforgiving to those who transgress’.
I use the term communicative spaces to refer to
figurative spaces (including those constructed by ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’’ exposure to ‘diverse mobilities’ – that I
call ‘trans-boundary communicative spaces’) where
the meanings of identities are exchanged and reflexively debated
and played with in a participatory manner.
Interestingly, Zubeda’s conceptualisation here resonates with
Bhaba’s (1990) ‘Third Space’
Cf. Taylor, (1994) for discussion regarding the relevance of
recognition and respect for the recovery of valued
‘self-identity’ of excluded groups.
The selective appropriation of black youth styles’ among ‘Southall
Punjabis’ is also recorded by Gillespie (1998:178, cf. also
has been noted elsewhere that mobile phones are a significant
element of the ‘social and cultural practices’ of minority
ethnic youth (Poole, 2001).
Gillespie (1998) argues that the importance of ‘designer label’ clothing
to ‘Southall Punjabis’ is caught up with desire for
‘authenticity’. She notes that ‘(t)he conspicuous consumption of
clothes involves not only the public display of self, but also
of rank and prestige’ (159).
The densest concentration of ‘South Asian’ owned shops in
Edinburgh is on Leith Walk, a busy, lengthy thoroughfare running
from the city centre down to Leith - which is also where many of
the city’s small population of ‘Sikhs’ live. Many families shop
on Leith Walk for halal meat, and there are also several
other small retail businesses owned by ‘British South Asians’,
including fabric shops, jewellers and travel agents.
The Odeon cinema is situated close to Nicolson Street and at the
time of my fieldwork there was a cinema in the Toll Cross area
of Edinburgh. A number of retail businesses owned by ‘Edinburgh
Pakistanis’ are situated in both of these areas.
Some participants reported playing tennis in the Craiglochart
area of the city.
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