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Chapter 15. A Short Story About Female Characters in Egyptian Soap Operas

Aliaa Dawoud

Aliaa Dawoud holds a PhD from the University of Westminster and a BA and MA from the American University in Cairo (AUC). Her PhD thesis was entitled “Utilizing Mass Media in the Political Empowerment of Egyptian Women.” She is currently an adjunct faculty member in the Journalism and Mass Communication Department at AUC.  Her main research interest is Arab women and media.

This chapter will provide an overview of how creative writing was used to expose non-academics to the outcomes of a doctoral dissertation. More specifically, I wrote a short story based on one chapter of my doctoral dissertation and used four different methods to make it available for non-academics to read. In what follows, I will first provide an overview of how the approach that I used fits in with performance ethnography. This will be followed by an overview of the chapter of my dissertation on which the short story is based. The third section provides a summary of the short story as well as a reflection on how I wrote it. It also explains the methods I used to disseminate the short story to non-academics. Finally, the last section contains some of the feedback I received on the short story from the non-academics who read it.

The idea of using creative writing to present the results of empirical research is not new. It is often used by qualitative researchers in a broad range of disciplines including sociology, anthropology, media studies, women’s studies, education, performance studies and cultural studies. It is referred to as “performance ethnography” (Smith & Gallo, 2007, p. 522). It was therefore an appropriate method to use in this case because my dissertation is a media study that focuses on women and politics.

Like all other performance ethnography texts, myshortstory “tells a story of the lived experience of others” (Smith & Gallo, 2007, p. 522); my story is based on the focus groups I conducted for my dissertation in which the participants expressed their views on Egyptian women’s participation in politics. The purpose of my short story is identical to that of performance ethnography, namely enabling the researcher and the audience to “meet in the liminal (or threshold) space that lies between them” (Smith & Gallo, 2007, p. 522). Yet, I did not read or act the story out to the audience, but they read the short story themselves. Since I disseminated the short story using a website, email, a book, and by providing family with a copy of it, performing it for the audience was simply not necessary or feasible.

Nevertheless, as will be shown towards the end of this chapter, the short story achieved an important objective of performance ethnography, that of conveying some new information to the audience. Furthermore, those who read the short story and provided me with feedback on it expressed a variety of different opinions. This is an observation that many researchers who use performance ethnography make note of, for the audience “tend to understand the text slightly differently based on their gender, ethnicity, social class, or historical or cultural background” (Smith & Gallo, 2007, p. 522). Another factor that seemed to have an impact on how the readers perceived the short story was whether or not they supported women’s rights.

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