Body Talk and Boundary Work Among Arab Canadian Immigrant Women

Merin Oleschuk, Helen Vallianatos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-614
Number of pages28
JournalQualitative Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Body
  • Boundaries
  • Canada
  • Gender
  • Immigration
  • Middle East Immigrants
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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