Bangladeshi family life in Bethnal Green
This thesis is about Bengali family life in Bethnal Green. This part of the East End of London is a place of paradoxical darkness and light where Victorian gloom, economic polarisation. Cockney traditions, racism and heartwarming kinship all coincide. Bengali families form the largest non-white ethnic group in the borough. They evince marked heterogeneity of biography, language, religious practice, occupation and household composition, yet certain themes such as chain networks of masculine support, the institution of arranged marriage and patrilineal joint households endure. Despite demographic density, the overall social atmosphere (batash) in Bethnal Green is experienced as attenuated and thin for many Bengali people, and for some, distorted and disfigured. Social knowledge is thick and pervasive through village connections with Bangladesh, but practical knowledge can be obstructed by living in a mixed- ethnicity area. The destabilising effects of this social atmosphere are shown to be compounded for those who also feel that they are vulnerable to gossip and spiritual modes of harm. Racism, in violent, institutionalised, banal and culturalised manifestations is a pervasive social practice in Bethnal Green which affects the lives of all its residents. I use the notion of the distribution of social predicaments as a heuristic device to present the ways in which cultural effects work in synergy with, or independently of other social facts. Whilst economic resources, gender and racism predictably have the most leverage in determining outcomes, the likely social trajectory for any individual cannot be extrapolated from these three factors alone. The interactions of cultural effects and social facts are exemplified maximally in the predicaments of young British women who marry husbands from Bangladesh. They take on burdensome engagement with enduring traditions of patriliny, novel reconfigurations of kin relationships, feminist discourse, relations of difference and changing expressions of Islam.