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Future Directions in Pakistan Studies | Program

April 4, 2015  |  Room 1636 School of Social Work Building

9:30-9:45: Welcome

Farina Mir &  Kamran Asdar Ali

9:45-11:00: Panel I: Art/Architectural History

Chair: Will Glover, Associate Professor, Departments of ​History and Architecture​, University of Michigan


Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor​, Departments of History of Art and Art, ​Cornell University

Contemporary Art in Pakistan: Challenges and Opportunities

This talk will outline trajectories of contemporary art in Pakistan over the last three decades. It will delineate some of the salient themes investigated by artists such as tradition, and popular culture. It will also discuss the institutional and discursive conditions that render legibility and value to contemporary art, which include higher education for studio training, and the activity of patrons, galleries, and curators within Pakistan and outside.

Kishwar Rizvi, Associate Professor, Department of History and Art, Yale, ​historian of Islamic Art and Architecture

Betwixt and Between: Writing the Architectural History of Pakistan

Mohenjo-daro, Makli, and the Mazar of Qaid-i Azam present three key moments in the history of the Indian Subcontinent.  The ancient, Indo-Islamic, and nationalist narratives that they represent have also come to define Pakistan.  Their images are displayed on stamps and tourism posters and their significance propagated in classrooms throughout the country.  Yet each of these monuments also points to connections far removed from the sovereign borders of Pakistan, whether through their patrons' religious identity or political allegiance.  This paper discusses the challenges facing the architectural historian in fieldwork across national borders and the impact they may have on the methodologies used by historians of South Asia more generally.

Comment: Christiane Gruber, Associate Professor, History of Art Department, University of Michigan

11:00-11:15: Break

11:15-12:45: Panel II: Exploring the Urban

Chair: Matthew Hull, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan


Rabia Nadir, Assistant Professor and Acting Head of the Centre for Media Studies​, Lahore School of Economics

From Walled City to Small City: Interrogating Development and Growth

This presentation will share findings of research conducted in the historical inner city of Lahore and emerging from ongoing research on three small cities of Punjab. The research on the Walled City of Lahore focused on a settlement of Pathan migrants in a hub of small-scale production, commerce, lower class community and rich commons undergoing rapid commercial growth and development. This growth and development was determined by the liberalization of imports and the policy of cities as engines of growth. The small cities of Bhera, Chakwal and Wazirabad share many aspects of scale, community, small manufacture, historical spatial morphology, mass exodus of non-Muslims in 1947 partition etc., with Lahore, in addition to being unique, peripheral centres in the larger urban system. Preliminary research in these cities has helped illuminate more complex genealogies, mutations and trajectories of social change in times of neo-liberal globalization as well as reiterate a broad declensionist narrative. The small city research is part of group research by members of the faculty of Environment Science and Policy at the Lahore School of Economics.

Haris Gazdar, Senior Researcher, Collective for ​Social Science Research, Karachi

Engaging Disciplines

The city has been a site of productive collaborations across disciplines in the social sciences and beyond.  This paper speaks about the value and pitfalls of working across disciplines using examples from recent work on Karachi’s politics which takes in demography, ethnography, economics and sociology.  The city also has hunger for knowledge about itself – a condition that offers professional knowledge producers otherwise rare opporunities for engagement. Here too, there are rewards and hazards, some of which are highlighted from experiences of recent encounters between the two.

Comment: Will Glover, Associate Professor, Departments of ​History and Architecture​, University of Michigan

12:45-2:00: Lunch

2:00-4: Panel III: Cultural History

Chair: Juan Cole, Professor, Department of History, University of Michigan


Framji Minwalla, Chair​, ​Department of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts​,Institute of Business Administration, Karachi

Pakistan, bless thee. Thou art translated: Ruptures, Continuities, and the Struggle for Relevance in Pakistani Performance

Performance involves multiple acts of translation.  Whether from language to language, from page to actor to stage to audience, from the past to the present, from culture to culture, or from the indicative to the subjunctive and back, all these translations reproduce tangled narratives about identity, agency, legitimacy, and authenticity, especially as they attempt to define and describe local habitations in opposition to what often seems like a global media onslaught. In Pakistan (though not of course only in Pakistan) these narratives constitute profoundly unstable frames of thinking and being, living and working, unstable particularly in the instant of most strident assertion.

This talk explores how such a theoretical framing might suggest avenues for research, and encourage smarter conversations among theorists and practitioners that could push performance in Pakistan forward in productive ways.

Manan Ahmed, Assistant Professor​,​ Department of Histor​y, Columbia University

Local, Regional and Universal History, Now or Then: A View from Uch Sharif

The paper examines questions of space, scale, distance, alterity in the writing of history. It focuses on three Persian histories written between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries. It presents the geographic and temporal imagination within these texts. The paper then critically engages with contemporary theories of connected or global histories to think through particular challenges facing the historians of Pakistan or northern India.

Kamran Asdar Ali, Associate ​Professor, Department of Anthropology; and Director, South Asia Institute, University of Texas, Austin

On Female Friendships: Homosociality and Desire in Pakistani Cinema

The passage of Muslim Personal Law in 1948, which gave women the right to inheritance under Shari’a, and that of Family Law Ordinance in 1961, are seen as major victories in the struggle for civil and gender rights in Pakistan. The Family Law Ordinance provided some legal curbs against polygamy, expanded the right for women to initiate divorce proceedings and also dealt favorably with inheritance rights for women.

This move by the military government was not always reflected in its cultural politics. The same year the Family Ordinance was passed, the film Saheli (1960) received five President of Pakistan medals for different categories.

The film, although immensely popular at the box office (it also won four Nigar awards, Pakistan’s most prestigious film awards), has been criticized by liberal circles as normalizing the practice of polygamy in post-independence Pakistan. Similarly, it may be considered an irony that a regime that had passed law creating restrictions on polygamous marriages would bestow awards on a film that ostensibly propagated the same system. Irrespective of the award committees and their decisions and the politics surrounding polygamy, what is underappreciated about the film in my opinion is the social bonding the two female protagonists share in the movie. In this short paper I  argue that the on screen affection between the two friends accounts for the story to allow them to marry the same man so they may be together. This analysis enables me to open up an argument about women’s representation in the popular media in Pakistan in order to create a different archive of women’s cultural politics and histories.

Comment: Yasmin Saikia, Professor, Department of History, Arizona State University

4:00-4:15: Break  

4:15: Wrap-up Discussion & Future Directions

This conference has been organized in conjunction with the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, with co-sponsorship from the Department of the History of Art.