Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 587–614 | Cite as

Body Talk and Boundary Work Among Arab Canadian Immigrant Women

  • Merin OleschukEmail author
  • Helen Vallianatos


This paper places Latour’s (2004) concept of “body talk” alongside literature on symbolic boundaries to consider how the symbolic judgements and evaluations that comprise body talk frame the impact of structural pressures on the body. Drawing from individual and focus group interviews with 36 first-generation Arab Canadian immigrant women, this study shows that the female body, and practices of feeding and exercising it, are sites where structural inequalities embedded in the immigration process are materially experienced, resisted, and managed. In constructing boundaries between Arab women’s bodies in Canada and the Arab world alongside those of so-called “Canadian” women, we argue that women communicate their immigration and settlement struggles and recoup dignity otherwise compromised in the migration process—ultimately allowing them to frame their struggles as products of their moral integrity as immigrant wives and mothers. Through these findings, this paper demonstrates the role of body talk in framing the impact of structural pressures on the body, while simultaneously highlighting the centrality of boundary work to that framing.


Women Gender Body Boundaries Immigration Middle East Immigrants Canada 



This project was supported by POWER (Promotion of Optimal Weights through Ecological Research), a team research grant provided by the Canadian Institute for Health Research in partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. We would like to thank Shaymaa Rahme and Hina Syed, whose work as research assistants on this project was incredibly valuable, as well as Yvonne Chu and colleagues at the Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative. Our thanks also go to members of the University of Toronto’s Feminist Food Working Group for their feedback on early drafts of this paper, as well as to Andrew Deener, David Smilde, and the journal’s anonymous reviewers, whose comments greatly strengthened the piece.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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