My dissertation titled, “Contesting Nationalisms: Globalization, Gender and Cultural Representation in Nigerian Beauty Pageants,” examines the Nigerian beauty pageant industry to argue that Nigeria’s shifting trajectory from a post-independence nation to an emerging nation remains shaped by the social divisions within Nigeria and its place within the international political economy. Beauty pageants serve as a microcosm of this dual process of navigating national unity and asserting global dominance. Drawing from ten months of ethnographic fieldwork and a comparative-case research design, I look at the varied articulations of Nigerian nationhood, which remain linked to gendered representations, cultural production, political contestation, and economic interests in Nigeria.
The first contest, “Queen Nigeria,” represents cultural-nationalism through its emphasis on the unity of the nation and retaining Nigeria’s unique cultural heritage in the face of rapid globalization. The second pageant, “The Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria,” embodies cosmopolitan-nationalism, stressing Nigeria’s compatibility with an international community. The third case, “Miss World 2002,” highlights global-nationalism as tied to the intersection between local context and the international community in crafting national representations.
I focus on how Nigerian beauty pageants: (1) project a cohesive national identity in a multiethnic and multi-religious society (2) craft a narrative of unique nationhood while being part of the global arena; and (3) manage local adaptation and resistance to globalization. By comparing these contests—their content, structure, and associated discourses—I theorize nationalism as a multilayered process informed by local and global processes.