On March 31, 2023, the Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS) at the University of Michigan (U-M) hosted its 12th annual Pakistan conference featuring a series of engaging speakers and talks. This year’s theme was “The Country and the City in Pakistan.” The full-day conference aimed to explore the productive tension and constitutive relationship between the countryside and the city in Pakistan’s past and present. 

Matthew Hull, director of CSAS and associate professor of anthropology at the U-M, opened the conference and welcomed the illustrious host of speakers, including Atiyab Sultan, career civil servant with the Pakistan administrative service, Yale University Postdoctoral Associate Shozab Raza, American University Professorial Lecturer Mubbashir Rizvi, Cornell Assistant Professor Natasha Raheja, and Ghazal Asif Farrukhi, assistant professor with Lahore University of Management Sciences. The keynote and round table discussion was led by North Carolina State University’s Distinguished Professor of History David Gilmartin, author of Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan, and U-M alum. 

“This conference aims to foster an alternative intellectual and political discourse on Pakistan beyond typical political science questions,” says Matthew Hull. “It’s also an effort to articulate scholarship on Pakistan with an understanding of the broader region and the world.”

Bringing together scholars researching Pakistan’s diverse rural and urban contexts spanning its different regions, this conference investigated the interrelationship between the urban and the rural by centering marginalized and minoritized people’s struggles for rights and unpacking the structures of feeling and moral economies. The speakers discussed the role played by kinship, domesticity, religion, institutional and technological change, and everyday practices of governance that mediate people’s experiences and mobility across the rural-urban continuum. 

An example of this presented by one of the speakers, Shozab Raza from Yale, discussed the ‘Worker-Peasant Rule’ from rural Pakistan. Drawing on 20 months of research, he explored how peasant revolutionaries in Pakistan’s South Punjab region creatively theorized to accelerate a revolutionary movement to remake the country. Raza’s work recasts peasants as worldly theoretical actors, destabilizing various distinctions – like rural/urban, theory/practice, and universal/particular – that have conventionally framed the study of decolonization in the global South.

“Peasant revolutions alert us to how emancipatory politics can be found in the most unlikely of places,” says Raza. 

The conference also featured short film screenings of A Gregarious Species and Kitne Passports by Natasha Raheja, assistant professor of anthropology from Cornell. Her current research generates insights across writing and film to advance political theory on majority-minority relations and majoritarianism. 

“In the context of cross-border migration and immigration policy in South Asia, I ask, how do majorities come to imagine themselves as minorities?” says Raheja. “Conversely, how do minorities imagine justice as part of majorities? How do majority-minority politics exceed the parameters of states in ways that are not nation bound?”

For more details on the conference and recordings of the lectures, please visit the CSAS website. 

This conference was co-sponsored by the Department of History, The Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, the Center for South Asian Studies, Asian Languages and Cultures, the Institute for the Humanities, Women’s and Gender Studies, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG), Global Islamic Studies Center, College of LSA, Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies, Middle East Studies, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, American Culture, Arab and Muslim American Studies, Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies, History of Art, Rackham Graduate School, and the American Institute of Pakistan Studies.