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Emergency, Difference, and Popular Politics in Karachi

Talk by Tahir Naqvi, Reed College. 2/25/08

Drawing on oral-historical research conducted in Karachi this paper considers formations of citizenship, difference and urban violence that develop in the wake of the imposition of martial rule in Pakistan and the suspension of mass-democratic participation. The martial state’s “interregnal” strategy of confining democratic participation to the neighborhood level, like its more tactical cultivation of ethno-nationalist movements throughout the 1980s, illustrates the emergency’s specific bearing on the postcolonial present. Rule by emergency, it is argued, incites the racialization and displacement (questioning, localization, parochialization) of the sovereign subject of Pakistani nationalism. The second part of the paper examines how non-elite urban actors conceive of autonomy, difference and territorial power in the wake of the emergency’s suspension of Pakistan's /elite-driven/ conventions of the mass-political relation.

Tahir Naqvi is Scholar in Residence and Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Reed College. Recent publications include “The Politics of Commensuration: The Violence of Partition and the Making of the Pakistani State,” Beyond Crisis: A Critical Second Look at Pakistan, and  “Cultural politics of hope and Coke: media, marketing and citizenship in Pakistan.”

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