Young Urban Saudi Women's Transgressions of Official Rules and the Production of a New Social Group


This article deals with young urban Saudi women's transgressions of rules regulating dress and public conduct in Riyadh. Many researchers on Middle Eastern societies interpret as resistance the silent practices adopted by subalterns such as women or youth. The existence of such social groupings is scarcely questioned in these works, which focus mainly on the interpretation of practices as political or subversive. In this article, I emphasize the collective and public aspect of transgressions in order to show how transgressive acts participate in shaping collective identifications and in producing young urban Saudi women as a group. In the first section, I argue that transgressions have a public aspect that makes them transformative, as they are tacitly coordinated, reproduced among young women, and repeated every day. The second section states that the transgressions' impact does not imply that they should be interpreted as resistance. In fact, transgressive acts are embedded in shifting power relations in the context of reform. In the third section, I show how transgressions have long-term implications for shaping groupings, identifications, and exclusions. Some transgressive practices that involve specific consumerist self-presentations have become norms among urban young women who conform to prevent rejection from the group. This study draws on ten months of ethnographic fieldwork in Riyadh between 2005 and 2009. I conducted interviews with young, urban Saudi women who studied or worked in Riyadh.