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Newcastle University (2019)

Exploring young Saudi women’s engagement with social media : feminine identities, culture and national image

Altuwayjiri, Norah Abdulaziz S

Titre : Exploring young Saudi women’s engagement with social media : feminine identities, culture and national image

Auteur : Altuwayjiri, Norah Abdulaziz S

Université de soutenance : Newcastle University

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2019

With the rising popularity of social media in the last decade and a half, young women in Saudi Arabia have been utilising these platforms to negotiate values and norms in relation to issues such as veiling, work, their place within the private sphere, and their relationships with the opposite-sex. The aim of this thesis is to understand how the rise of social media engagement is impacting long-held traditions and values about Saudi women, and how their social media use is impacting on their public national image. The research addresses the interplay between Saudi conservative nationalists, who wish to preserve a traditional image of femininity that is highly tied to notions of piety and deference, and the Saudi women who, through social media, are actively challenging these longstanding views on how women should behave in society. Drawing on Nancy Fraser’s notion of counterpublics (Fraser 1991), this research argues that the democratic potential of social media platforms, independent of cultural and state laws that serve to direct, control and determine the attitudes and behaviour of young Saudi women, has facilitated the emergence of a counterpublic in which alternate contemporary identities are expressed and represented. By employing a triangulation approach for collecting data within a constructivist research paradigm, this research draws on four sets of data. Firstly, it uses netnography to observe the public accounts of seven female social media influencers. Secondly, it observes the personal accounts of nine Saudi women. A third set of data consists of six one-to-one interviews. Finally, a fourth set of data entails seven focus groups involving an overall sample of 36 participants. Using thematic analysis, this research argues that Saudi women, particularly younger women, using social media are adopting a more critical view of traditional customs surrounding femininity and women’s place in a society constructed through a collectivist ideology towards more individualistic values, norms and social ties that emphasise agency and autonomy (Giddens, 1991). I also argue that Saudi women active on social media are modernising the national public image of Saudi women. By engaging with Dobson’s (2015) study of post-feminist digital culture, I explore the contemporary ideals of Saudi femininity that are portrayed on social media by the young Saudi women I observe in this research and I document the complex and many ways these women can now be in the world. I find that women’s engagement with social media is challenging traditional values and norms and performing a vanguard role in reimagining the public national image of Saudi women today.


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