DPhil, Social and Cultural Anthropology
Thesis: Reimagining honour among the Pakistani middle classes
Research: Most studies of honour among Pakistanis focus on its role in violence and murder. In these studies, as in international policy-oriented discourse, honour often appears as an unchanging concept, rooted in Pakistani traditions and that inevitably leads to the harsh oppression of women. This conception of honour fails to consider the everyday pragmatism that characterizes most people’s honour-related negotiations, particularly in gender relations. In consequence, it becomes impossible to perceive any potential for change in Pakistani honour practices. Yet, within Pakistan, honour killings are mainly seen as a practice of the uneducated and traditional lower classes. The Westernized elite emphasize their status and modernity precisely by condemning honour-based violence and marking their distance from traditional gender practices. Moreover, between the working class and the elite there is now a growing and virtually unstudied middle class, consisting of families which in the span of one or two generations have moved from what can be thought of as the uneducated working class to the educated middle class. An important goal for this upwardly mobile group is to be perceived as modern. The emerging middle class therefore provides an excellent opportunity to study how views and practices related to honour vary depending on the social context and thus are open to change. Given that honour remains central to regulating Pakistani gender relations, how does the middle class resolve the tension between traditional gender roles and wishing to appear modern and educated? The central question for my research is therefore concerned with how individuals reformulate honour so as to fit their middle-class lifestyles.