South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Affective Geographies and Veiling in India

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Marigold, New Building

Surveying the scholarship on women in Muslim societies, there is considerable focus on the veil and what the veil represents. The veil is understood as always, already a powerful symbol of something else. However, the semiotic significance of the veil is predicated on the binary logic that Muslim women are either veiled or unveiled, with each being a consistent ontological state. Any change to the state (i.e. from being unveiled to veiled or vice versa) is commonly analyzed through the lens of choice, oppression, or resistance. My ethnographic observations on Muslim women’s veiling practices in India problematizes three common approaches to veiling: (1) Muslim women who veil do so consistently; (2) Muslim women who veil do so with explicit intentions; (3) Muslim women who veil do so either out of choice, lack of choice, or as a form of resistance to the status quo. None of these analytical approaches seems appropriate for understanding the literal and metaphorical slipperiness of the veil as observed when traveling with my informants. In this paper, I take the slipperiness of the veil, rather than its signification, as the point of departure. Instead of analyzing the representational force of the veil, I analyze how the everyday geographies that women traverse generate affective properties that shape veiling practices. I argue that the veil is not always a symbol, but can be reframed as a “parabody” that reacts and adjusts to the varying intensities and atmospheres of different geographic spaces.

Mira Mohsini

University of Akron, United States

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