‘Reclaiming Our Narrative’: A Photovoice Project Exploring Controlling Images, Self-Definitions, and Community Empowerment with Muslim Women in Britain

  • Hanna Akalu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In parallel with the rise of gendered Islamophobia and its consequences for the lives of Muslim women, the emergence of positive images of hijab wearing women in the Western media and modest fashion industries has generated competing discourses of this group as oppressed and representing cultural threats on the one hand, and as fashionable and stereotype breaking on the other. To understand how these competing images and discourses contribute to Muslim women’s identity negotiations, this thesis uses an intersectional Black feminist framework to explore the perspectives and experiences of a diverse group of British Muslim women. Making an original contribution to knowledge, this work examines some of the existing and evolving controlling images of Muslim women archetypes as depicted within Western dominant discourse. Using a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach, this study aims to disrupt power imbalances within research and to create conditions in which these women’s knowledge, expertise, and social justice activism can be used to promote social change. Through focus groups, individual interviews, and the planning, development, and execution of a visual-methods (photovoice) project, sixteen British Muslim women worked collaboratively to visually document new self-definitions and understandings of their individual and collective hopes, concerns, and strengths, within the aim of reclaiming our narratives.

The findings reveal how the intersecting identities and social positioning of these Muslim women contribute to a variety of needs, struggles, aspirations, and experiences of oppression. The three themes explore issues of Muslim women’s femininity, activism, diversity, and religious agency, as well as the various strategies used to resist Western stereotypes, racism, sexual objectification, and cultural forms of gendered oppression. The women’s individual stories, conflicting perspectives, and shared realities involved spaces for learning, critical consciousness, and group empowerment, as illustrated by a visual exploration of their lives. The study concludes with the women’s intellectual development of self-definitions and counter-images, which challenges homogeneous assumptions and advances understandings of Muslim women’s agency, empowerment, and lives in Britain.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
SupervisorBipasha Ahmed (Supervisor), Ruth Marciniak (Supervisor), Ima Jackson (Supervisor) & Anne Chapman (Supervisor)

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