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"Double strangers" purity and danger among Iranian immigrant women

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posted on 23.02.2017, 04:22 by Naghavi, Azam
This thesis is the story of double strangers, the narratives of people who felt they had become ‘displaced forever’, displaced as a result of a sacrifice they made for their children. Double strangers are people who feel they are strangers in different dimensions of their lives. They are strangers in their home country, yet they are strangers in their adopted country, strangers within their old lifestyle and within their new one, and strangers to both old and new beliefs. They feel they will always be wanderers. The findings that I present in this thesis are drawn from a qualitative study of the experiences of Iranian women, living in Australia with their husbands and small children. I employed an ethnographic research approach and interrogated two theories: purity and danger (Douglas, 1978) and social capital (Putnam, 2000). The research methods I used included in-depth interviews with Iranian women, service providers and key informants in Melbourne. I have spent extended hours undertaking participant observation at different social, cultural and religious events. To have a firsthand knowledge of the experiences of childbirth and hospital stays, I visited pregnant women at their homes and hospitals during their pregnancies and after childbirth; I accompanied one woman in labour and attended her caesarean section. In this research, I have explored the complex intertwined relationships of various aspects of women’s lives. Women expressed that they had lost opportunities and avenues for sociability after migration, and became lonely; it was hard for them to build new networks. I have developed a model for in-group trust building (the ACS model), which shows the struggle immigrants face in building new social networks within their own community. Concerns over cultural purity, experiences of discrimination, geographical barriers and time constraints also inhibited women from establishing and expanding their social relationships. Less contact with other people in the society created stereotypes, which caused fear of (cultural) impurity, leading to a loss of and limited desire to expand social networks. Concerns over purity (both physical and non-physical) affected women in their different roles. As mothers, they were worried about their children’s physical cleanliness and eating habits in Australia, and they were also concerned about their education attainments and cultural impurity. As wives, they faced tensions between being a ‘good’ wife based on patriarchal cultural values, and different women’s rights and freedom in Australia; this sometimes led to marital conflict. At the same time, women felt that they had lost their informal resources. They struggled to find social support and to seek help from available formal institutions because of concerns over trust, confidentiality, and a desire to keep their lives private. These struggles took their toll on their emotional wellbeing, and the level of happiness and life satisfaction they experienced. Most of them believed that they would never again be as happy as they once were, but because of their children, they made the decision to bear the hardships they were experiencing. This suffering and the way in which they interpret their suffering made them resilient and strong, and helped them attain self-sufficiency and gave them the ability to focus on coping strategies such as spirituality and positive thinking.


Principal supervisor

Lenore Manderson

Additional supervisor 1

Katie Vasey

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Psychological sciences

Campus location



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences