Intersectionality is personal: narratives of two South-Asian Muslim migrant young women

Saima Salehjee, Mike Watts

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The objective of this paper is to study the personal narratives of two South-Asian Muslim migrant young women; encompassing the ways they shape power relationships between their 'extensional intersectional powers' and their 'intentional agentic core'. Both these young women are keen to access science careers. We seek to shed light on the multiplicity of their relationships with powers and inequality, discrimination and privilege within their lived social settings, and how these relationships shape their science identities and their ambitions to become future scientists.Our participants are Muslim Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants: research on Pakistani and Bangladeshi women’s science education is very limited. The Social Mobility Commission (2016), for example, has noted that, while there is evidence of black-Caribbean boys’ disengagement in science, 'there is less evidence to explain differences in STEM uptake across ethnicities […] Therefore a clear need to deepen the evidence base on these differences is required' (p. 39). Working class girls of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage are least likely to see themselves as a 'sciencey person', in contrast to boys from high-income families (mainly from Chinese and Indian backgrounds), who are most likely to choose science after the compulsory age of science education (2011; Gill & Bell, 2013; Homer, Ryder & Banner, 2014; Royal Society, 2008). Recently, Archer (2018) advanced the use of intersectionality and reported that the majority of the working-class girls position themselves as shy and quiet in the classrooms and, even when some of the girls try to participate, science teachers tend to ignore them. Still, insufficient attention, then, has been focused on the intersectionality of South-Asian female students' race or ethnicity, gender, and ability affecting their educational outcomes in schools. This is a gap we hope to fill.Davis (2008) states, ''Intersectionality' addresses the most central theoretical and normative concern within feminist scholarship: namely, the acknowledgement of differences among women ... This is because it touches on the most pressing problem facing contemporary feminism – the long and painful legacy of its exclusions' (p. 70). We argue, however, that such struggles can be identified at an individual level, that social structures and institutions form part of the 'master narratives' of personal identity. As Wells, Gill, and McDonald (2015) point out, intersectionality analysis at the micro-level can reveal rich and complex identity negotiations - as well as how these identities can interact, nest, and shift. In addition, McCall (2005) notes, intersectionality has the value of bringing into focus lived experience. Moreover, because experience is intersected, a study of its intersectionality is vital. At the micro-level an intersectionality analysis revealing complicated identity negotiations– in the cases here - of being a school student, a Muslim, and a daughter, as well as how these identities might interact, nest, and shift (Adib & Guerrier, 2003; Wells, Gill, & McDonald, 2015). Our context lies within formal educational systems, and we look to illuminate the multiplicity of demands made on migrant Muslim girls in the UK. We trace the ways that ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, religion, multi-nationality and ability all shape the structural dynamics of power and inequality in social spaces and individual identities (Carbado, Crenshaw, Mays & Tomlinson, 2013; Collins & Bilge, 2016). Our particular interests lie in the ways in which young women approach the study of science in schools and we use this as a vehicle to explore their 'personal intersectionality'. For us, then, intersectionality is the study of individuals' (science) identity; encompassing the ways they shape power relationships between their 'extensional intersectional powers' and their 'intentional agentic core' (self-identity, science Identity) (Salehjee & Watts, 2020).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages5
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Apr 2020
EventECER: Educational Research (Re)connecting Communities: (Conference Cancelled) - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Aug 202028 Aug 2020


ConferenceECER: Educational Research (Re)connecting Communities
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • South Asian migrants
  • women's education
  • women in science
  • science education


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