Abayas, Gahwa, and Straight Talk : To what extent can the apolitical Emirati lifestyle influencer be political?

Deina Rabie Colloquium Flyer


3 to 4 p.m., Feb. 9, 2024


Topic: Colloquium - Rabie 2/9/24

Time: Feb 9, 2024 03:00 PM Arizona

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Deina Rabie is an Assistant Professor in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. She received her PhD in Anthropology, with a focus in linguistic and cultural anthropology, at the University of Texas at Austin in August 2022. Her research focuses on the intersection of language, gender, and mobility in the Arabian Gulf and Middle East at large. Her areas of specialization include discourse-centered approaches to language and culture, semiotics, feminist anthropology, anthropology of infrastructure, digital media, globalization, and neoliberalism.

Abayas, Gahwa, and Straight Talk : To what extent can the apolitical Emirati lifestyle influencer be political? 

In recent years, Emiratis, especially women, have taken up personal development training as a vital resource in their personal projects of self-improvement. This trend coincides with the state’s active dissemination of self-development discourses as part of a strategy to orient its citizens and expatriate residents toward new forms of neoliberal citizenship that places the onus of personal achievement on the individual. One group who have been showcased as exemplars of these new forms of citizenship have been Emirati social media lifestyle influencers. In this talk, I conceptualize social media in the United Arab Emirates as both a space of governmentality and contestation, where discourses of self-actualization and social contestation intersect. I ask: Within their cultivated niche of aspiration and personal development, to what extent can the ostensibly apolitical Emirati lifestyle influencers be political? To explore this question, I examine how a group of primarily Emirati lifestyle influencers use English and bilingual Arabic-English social media platforms to contribute to the reinforcement and circulation of self-actualization discourses. They do so by projecting their lives as didactic representations of the successes and challenges that working professionals and novel young nuclear families experience. At the same time, I show how their strategic use of English on their platforms fosters a space of indirect contestation, where they can negotiate different epistemologies of the self, question traditional and state ideologies, and raise pertinent social issues through intersubjective experiences with their network of Arab, Emirati, and international followers.