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Profit, piety, and patronage: bazaar traders and politics in urban Pakistan

Javed, Umair (2018) Profit, piety, and patronage: bazaar traders and politics in urban Pakistan. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.4jazasx9bxci


This thesis studies the political and social practices of prosperous bazaar merchants and traders to understand the dynamics of power and authority in contemporary urban Pakistan. Broadly, it considers how propertied groups, such as traders, maintain their dominant position in Pakistan’s political sphere, and how the consent of subordinate classes is structured to reproduce this persisting arrangement. Drawing on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a large wholesale bazaar of Lahore, this thesis demonstrates that bazaar traders accumulate power and authority through a fused repertoire of transactional bargaining, material patronage, and Islamic civic leadership. By mobilizing voluntary associations, and forming personalized relations of reciprocity with state functionaries and political elites, traders are able to reproduce their material and status privileges through political access and co-optation of public resources. Such networks also position them as patrons and brokers for the urban poor who work in marketplaces, helping the latter resolve pressing issues of everyday subsistence, while sustaining ties of exploitative dependence in the process. These ties are simultaneously legitimized through an accompanying cultural politics grounded in religious ideals. Bazaar traders remain deeply embedded with Islamist actors and play a central role in administering mosques, seminaries, and religious charities. Therefore, notions of piety, divinely ordained class and status hierarchies, and benevolent civic virtue - disseminated and popularized through their articulation and performance by bazaar traders – shape the cultural frames under which class authority and material conditions are interpreted by subordinate groups in marketplaces. Ultimately, these processes act as the building blocks of a persisting arrangement, wherein the influence bazaar traders possess through economic resources and their authority over the urban poor is transacted with weak political parties during elections, thus underpinning the reproduction of Pakistan’s elite-dominated political sphere. By documenting the everyday power practices of a dominant group and the microprocesses that feed into the political sphere, this thesis rectifies deterministic statist and structuralist explanations for Pakistan’s lasting regime of elite power. It also contributes to ongoing debates on the roles played by the state, political parties, and civil society in the articulation of hegemonic political arrangements.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Umair Javed
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: McQuarrie, Michael

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