Pakistan’s presence in the outside world is dominated by images of religious extremism and violence. These images—and the narratives that interpret them—inform events in the international realm, but they also twist back around to shape local class politics. In The New Pakistani Middle Class, Ammara Maqsood focuses on life in contemporary Lahore, where she unravels these narratives to show how central they are for understanding competition and the quest for identity among middle-class groups.
Lahore’s traditional middle class has asserted its position in the socioeconomic hierarchy by wielding significant social capital and dominating the politics and economics of urban life. For this traditional middle class, a Muslim identity is about being modern, global, and on the same footing as the West. Recently, however, a more visibly religious, upwardly mobile social group has struggled to distinguish itself against this backdrop of conventional middle-class modernity, by embracing Islamic culture and values. The religious sensibilities of this new middle-class group are often portrayed as Saudi-inspired and Wahhabi.
Through a focus on religious study gatherings and also on consumption in middle-class circles—ranging from the choice of religious music and home décor to debit cards and the cut of a woman’s burkha—The New Pakistani Middle Class untangles current trends in piety that both aspire toward, and contest, prevailing ideas of modernity. Maqsood probes how the politics of modernity meets the practices of piety in the struggle among different middle-class groups for social recognition and legitimacy.
Maqsood…has broken new ground in this field, looking closely at what has happened to Pakistan after the rise of its middle class…The most important contribution of the book is the understanding it offers of the new, at times unfamiliar, Pakistani middle class…Her effort is directed at not reducing her subject to a stereotype, especially with regard to the simultaneous pursuit of modernity and religion.
Pioneering and perceptive…[Maqsood’s] insightful and interesting treatise focuses on the middle class structure, increasing religious identity of an upwardly mobile new middle class, and divisions between the traditional and the new middle classes of Lahore.
Not only is this book an extremely fresh and engaging ethnography, it also does an excellent job of complicating our understanding of the connections among social class, modernity, and piety in South Asia. Maqsood elegantly destabilizes much of the received wisdom…It makes a very significant contribution to our understanding of the relationships between religious practices and modernity in the neoliberal era.
Maqsood’s work…helps one understand the worldview of this class, their aspirations and value systems.
Through her vivid ethnography of teachers, doctors, engineers, and shop keepers in contemporary Lahore, Maqsood offers readers a fresh understanding of middle-class Pakistan. This is an intricate story of all the pleasures, tensions, and contradictions inherent in the construction of a modern Muslim self.
A fascinating study of the rise of Pakistan’s new middle class, whose collective identity, Maqsood argues, ushers in a new kind of Islamic assertion. It is rare to see such a nuanced and thoroughly contextualized analysis of Muslim belonging and politics. A much-needed counterpart to what we know about the Indian middle class and its religiosity.
I couldn’t put down Ammara Maqsood’s incisive and empathetic ethnography of Lahore’s rising middle class—she carefully constructs a varied picture of what it is to be modern, authentic, and Islamic. This intelligent book makes an invaluable contribution toward shifting our perception of Pakistan as a place of absolutes.
- 2019, Winner of the AIPS Book Prize
- 208 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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