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SS1010: Australian People: Indigeneity & Multiculturalism: Reading with a purpose

Reading with a purpose

When academics design assessment they always have an educational outcome in mind, the trick is to figure out what this is, then demonstrate that you have learned it. The good news is, they always tell you what that is, every time!! Our teachers really do want us to succeed.

In this assessment the lecturer wants you to learn about certain themes in Sara El Sayed’s memoir.

So, what are these themes we need to be looking for while we read?

The research question (in your subject outline) will tell you what the lecturer wants you to learn and write about.

Remember this is not a book review; the autobiography is just one piece of literature that you will refer to in your essay.


Research question

In Muddy People, el Sayed writes about her attempts to learn the ‘rules’ as she grew up in an Egyptian Muslim family in south east Queensland. How do migrants to Australia, particularly those coded as The Other due to skin colour and/or religion, learn the unwritten rules about what it means to be Australian?

Consider what el Sayed’s experiences tell us about ‘fitting in’ in Australia at a time when Muslims were subject to various forms of discrimination and misrecognition. As el Sayed grows up she was subject to family pressures concerning her culture and religion that she had to reconcile with her experience of the wider, largely white, Australian society.

Themes/Focus Words

Here are some themes/focus words that I found in ‘Muddy People’ that might be worth considering

  • Belonging

  • Coming of age - growing up

  • Emigration and immigration - assimilation

  • Families

  • Culture - religion - Muslim - Egyptian Muslim - Islamophobia

  • Racism - Othering - discrimination - misrecognition - stereotypes


Keep in mind, you are an academic reading with a purpose, so you need to devise a way of cataloguing the important passages in the book that you find. You don’t want to have to go back and read the whole thing again looking for that great example that you vaguely remembered reading.

I like to buy the book so that I can highlight passages and write my thoughts in the margins.

However there are a number of ways of doing this, what is important is that you record the sentences that matter, how they relate to your theme and what page they are on, if nothing else write down the important pages, you will thank me later.

What now?

Now it is time for you to read the book, yes, the whole book. Context is important, plus your marker has read the book and will be able to tell when you’re making stuff up.  

Then it is time to select the topic that you wish to discuss in your essay.

Note: you will not have enough space to effectively write about all these themes, so it is a good idea to narrow your essay down to one of them and discus this in detail.

So how do you choose which one? Well a good way is to choose the topic that interests you the most.

You will have to do further research and that means more reading, and it is much easier to read about something that interests you. Also, it is worth considering the themes that caused you to feel a sense of injustice, anger, sadness, or hope whilst reading the text. If it caused you to feel this way, then it is likely that others have felt strongly about the same issue and have written about it in journal articles.

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