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Headscarves and mini-skirts: Germanness, Islam, and the politics of cultural difference

Beverly M Weber, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines representations of Muslim women in contemporary Germany and considers them in the context of the intensely gendered politics of cultural difference at work. It particularly addresses how immigrant women are understood as Muslim women. As a consequence, immigrant women are considered primarily as representatives of an essentialized and racialized culture. Such discursive reductions ignore immigrant women's participation in the realms of economy, politics, and knowledge production in Germany. The first part of my dissertation critiques representations of Muslim women by revealing the national and nationalist forces that overdetermine these representations. Utilizing transnational feminist cultural studies and feminist deconstruction as my theoretical and methodological underpinnings, I explore representations of Muslim and immigrant women in Der Spiegel from the time of reunification to the present. I then analyze discourses around Germany's headscarf debates in legal texts, newspapers, and court decisions. In the next section I work to theorize potential alternative discursive fields for representing immigrant women. Drawing in particular on Gayatri Spivak's notion of teleopoeisis, I discuss the need for representations and discourses that also imagine immigrant women as political actors, economic agents, and agents of knowledge. I then perform readings of interviews with Muslim and Turkish women as well as of Feridun Zaimoglu's literary rewritings of interviews with Turkish women to consider what a politics of teleopoeisis and careful listening might mean for literary and cultural studies. I suggest that even in texts that explicitly choose their subjects based on participation in a particular "culture," it is possible to read for subjectivities as agents of politics, economics, and knowledge production. The final chapter performs such an alternate reading through an analysis of the work of Emine Sevgi Özdamar. By reading textual figures for political, worker, and intellectual subjectivities one discovers that Özdamar herself has provided a transnational critique of histories of the political movements of the 1970s. In my concluding chapter I consider the difficulties of interdisciplinary work in relationship to my trainings in Comparative Literature, German Studies and Women's Studies.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Womens studies|Germanic literature|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Weber, Beverly M, "Headscarves and mini-skirts: Germanness, Islam, and the politics of cultural difference" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3215763.