Skylines and hemlines : a visual exploration of expatriate women’s negotiation and definition of appropriate dress in the changing cityscape of Doha

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Christenson, Amy
expatriate women
social semiotics
visual ethnography
This paper uses visual ethnography to explore the narratives of definition and negotiation of appropriate dress for eighteen expatriate women who currently live in Qatar’s capital Doha. Rapid shifts to the physical and cultural landscape are a product of Doha’s re-imagining of itself as a global city. New sites of interaction between locals and expats lead to collisions of definitions, discourses, values, and images of appropriate dress for expatriate women. Photovoice, photo elicitation activities, and comparative analysis of a local dress campaign use women’s “selfies” of clothing to create a dress resource map (see website). Clothing choices display an interconnectedness of factors largely dependent on clarity of guidelines, enforcement, repercussions, and perceptions of ownership of space. Dress-altering communicates messages of respect and awareness for local values and power relationships as women cover reproductive areas, hide shape, and seek invisibility by manipulating length, tightness, cut, fabric, print, and colour. Basing my analysis on a social semiotic approach, I draw upon post-colonial theory and ideas of intercultural encounters and integration to navigate broader contexts of discourses and images of expatriate women.
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