Identity Performance Among Muslim International Women: A Narrative Inquiry

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this research was to study identity performance among undergraduate Muslim international women on college campuses in the U.S. Identity performance was defined as the way in which these women acted, engaged, interacted, behaved, and situated themselves in their various environments (Goffman, 1959). The conceptual framework for the study was Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory (1979) that identifies five environmental systems in which an individual interacts (microsystems, mesosystems, ecosystems, macrosystems, and chronosystems). This study focused on identity performance in microsystems.

Narrative inquiry, a qualitative methodological approach, was utilized to pursue two research questions: (1) how do undergraduate Muslim international women describe their experiences of identity performance inside college environments; and (2) how do undergraduate Muslim international women describe their experiences of identity performance outside college environments? Two in-person interviews were conducted with eight participants representing six countries (Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia). Interviews were transcribed verbatim, and data were analyzed with four iterations of coding (narrative coding, refining narrative coding, pattern coding, theming the data) (Saldaña, 2015). Five themes emerged: Muslim identity performance in home country, Muslim identity performance and family, Muslim international identity consciousness, religious engagement on campus, and understandings of new Muslim international identity.

The stories shared revealed that identity performance was a complex process; it was ever changing and evolving as Muslim international women navigated their way from a religiously homogeneous environment in the home country to a heterogeneous environment within the U.S. Their microsystems and interactions with various environments influenced their performances of their various identities. These influences were also related to contextual conformity, psychological awareness, agency, resilience, persistence, positivity and appreciation of their experiences in the ever-changing environments. The study has implications for faculty and university administrators who are seeking to create inclusive and encouraging academic and social environments. Findings also have implications for future research on identity performance, contextual conformity, and experiences of Muslim international students.



Ecological systems theory, gendered Islamophobia, identity performance, international students, Muslim students, narrative inquiry, women students