Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Culture, Gender and the Influence of Social Change Amongst Emirati Families in the United Arab Emirates

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Culture, Gender and the Influence of Social Change Amongst Emirati Families in the United Arab Emirates

Article excerpt


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country comprising seven separate Emirates that originally came to great affluence due to the oil-boom in the region, and today continues its rapid social momentum with regards to socioeconomic and educational developments. It is considered a stable political region with a low crime rate and moreover is one that is progressive and liberal compared with many of its neighbours in the Arabian Gulf.

Despite this however, little is known of the prevailing family life of Emirati families in this multicultural setting. Research on many topics is at a rudimentary stage in the region, particularly in the area of the broader social sciences where there is a great dearth in relation to understanding social trends as well as anthropological studies of modern-day life in the Emirates (Schvaneveldt et al., 2005: 82).

Selected findings discussed in this paper were drawn from a pilot study that was in turn part of a larger qualitative foundation project seeking to explore the structure of Emirati families in the UAE, utilizing an ecological perspective. This paper covers the more limited topic of the perceptions of family in relation to gender norms and roles within the family. These are discussed in relation to the cultural and religious context of society, in addition to how these have been influenced by external social changes.


The foundation project was originally visualized as forming two main phases of inquiry. The first, to reiterate, would be an exploratory pilot study, while the second would refine these data and use a more in-depth approach in investigating family life in the UAE.

There was a commitment from the outset however to use a variety of qualitative methods to gather data in both the first and second stages of the project. These included, for example, an exploratory case study approach as well as documentary filming of selected aspects of family life. In this paper, data are drawn from the ethnographic narrated accounts of family respondents that formed part of the initial pilot study.

Ethnography is committed to the study of people within the everyday environment of human interaction. An understanding of the phenomenon under study precludes the use of mechanistic, quantitative approaches in which the production of replicable results is the prominent aim (Hammersley, 1990: 1-5). Ethnographic data collection typically relies on indepth, extensive interviewing techniques that depend on semi-structured questions or may otherwise use opportunistic encounters in an entirely unstructured approach (Burgess, 1995: 55). Data analysis involved subjecting the data to a classification procedure through the devising of codes for single and recurrent phenomena. Recurrent phenomena begin to form conceptual clusters, which then become the findings of the study (Brewer, 2000).

In this study certain topics were presented to families to discuss with the researcher in an informal interview atmosphere. These topics formed four main areas of inquiry tiiat overlapped in information rather than standing in a discrete relationship with each other. Accordingly the topics are categorised as firstly, the social changes experienced by Emirati families across the generations and secondly, how these have influenced the perceived roles and responsibilities of Emirati men and women. Thirdly, the expectations for the future of the second generation were explored from the point of view of parents and children. While lastly, the attitudes and perceptions of family members towards the ageing process were also discussed. These topics were consciously aimed at exploring gendered notions of male and female normative behaviour across the generations. However, being broad in scope, they also permitted families a considerable amount of latitude to interpret issues according to their own priorities, beliefs and values.

The Background of Family Participants

The families were initially identified through their connection with a cohort of university students at Zayed University, this being the educational establishment the researchers were attached to. …

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