Northern Nigerian women in and beyond the Boko Haram conflict: complexities of media, communications, and gendered agency


Examining neglected aspects of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s north-east region, this thesis opens with a discussion of the historical invisibility of northern Nigerian women. It traces the erasure or misunderstanding of their voice and agency in national and international public debate and in stereotypical tropes in the media coverage of the ongoing conflict. Then, substantively, through alternative theorisations of agency which centre the experiences and articulations of northern Nigerian women who have become victim-survivors of the insurgency, the work provides a culturally and historically grounded account of displaced women’s struggles, negotiations, and mediated encounters. Employing a postcolonial lens, this thesis theorises the ways in which Northern Nigerian women engage with media representations and communications technologies as they navigate gendered structures and expectations, trauma, violence, and displacement. De-centring media representations, I come to investigate, how northern Nigerian women’s lived experiences of gender, conflict, trauma, victimisation, and survival, coincide with or diverge from the ways they are constructed and imagined in scholarly and media coverage of the insurgency. The conceptual framework of this study melds media practice theory, theories of representation and racism, concepts from Global South, African and transnational feminism, and nuanced discussions of agency that often elude or have been suppressed by the European liberal philosophical tradition. Notably, these include agency’s fluidity and ephemerality, its embodiment, contingency and potential for contamination – to elucidate how the political and media logics of media coverage of the insurgency are received and contested by victim-survivors of the insurgency. Scaffolded by these conceptual areas, I conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews and ethnographic participant observation in the north-east of Nigeria between 2021-2022 with sixty women displaced victim-survivors of the insurgency. Analysis of findings reported in empirical chapters includes reflections on how the socially transformative impact of conflict complicates and extends scholarly conceptualisations of agency. Further, systematic thematic and discourse analysis of my data indicates that northern Nigerian women’s responses to the conflict reflect and produce multiple subjectivities, ranging from those that conform with hegemonic representation and constructions of themselves as ‘the other’, to those in complete opposition; and a spectrum of other negotiated positions. Other unpredictable manifestations of these representations of themselves, men in their communities, their experiences, and, their agency are expressed through overlapping boundaries of identity, defined by factors such as ethnicity, class, age, religion etc. My conclusions argue for a rethinking of the role of violent conflict, displacement and the media in reconfiguring gendered practices, its norms and values; and a reconceptualisation of agency both materially and discursively, to give those who wish to intervene in extended violent conflict situations a more stable and holistic position from which to theorise and to act

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