Narratives of Women’s Belonging: Life Stories from an East London Street

PhD Thesis

Samson, Nicola 2013. Narratives of Women’s Belonging: Life Stories from an East London Street. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Law and Social Science
AuthorsSamson, Nicola
TypePhD Thesis

Subjective belonging, defined here as emotional attachments to people and places which give meaning and security to people’s lives, is the central theme of this study. It is not simply concerned with where, or whether people belong, but how they experience belonging. The thesis argues that narrative inquiry, in the richness of the depth and detail it offers, embedded within time and social context, is a most apposite methodology for drawing out the elusive and multi-layered meanings of subjective belonging through people’s whole lives. The empirical research entails semi-structured interviews with 14 migrant and British women of diverse background, ethnicity, class and generation, all of whom live in one East London street, the one in which I also live. In a framework of childhood, citizenship, ethnicity, class, place and community, narrative interviews are used to elicit the multiple and shifting ways in which the experience of belonging is configured in the women’s life stories. The research argues that an intersectional approach relating the women’s belonging to their manifold social locations is crucial to the meaning-making of their experiences. Situating the research in its specific social and historical context enables exploration of the women’s relationship with the locality and within the changing ethnic and class demographics of the area. Differentiating between identity and belonging, the thesis proposes that, belonging, unlike identity, demands performativity. The study focuses on the everyday performative practices of custom and tradition, including language and religion, as well as food and motherhood, and explores how these practices impact on the women’s sense of belonging. Ultimately the thesis demonstrates that performativity per se cannot create belonging but that the women’s varying positionalities understood over time are critical in explaining their sense of belonging.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintSep 2013
Publication process dates
Deposited11 Aug 2014
Publisher's version
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