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Hamzić, Vanja (2014) A Cry for Madness: Governance Feminism and Neoliberal Unity in Pakistan. In: Governance Feminism Workshop, May 2014, The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London, London, UK.

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This paper seeks to provide a critical reflection on the feminist movements in Pakistan. It includes an assessment of the concerted forces of homogenisation, ‘expertisation’, and discursively symptomatic power-engagements with governmental, crypto-governmental and inter-governmental establishments amongst certain high-flying Pakistani feminist organisations, which have given rise to the class of ‘home-grown’ women’s human rights and gender advisors at every level of policy- and knowledge-making. The primary intent of this paper is to discern the ingredients of the need for self-restraint when discussing such sensitive and potentially deeply divisive issues - a will to disregard the obvious and perpetuate the agony, or – as Janet Halley suggests – to succumb to paranoia of an immensely threatening state and perpetual feminist fragility. This affective value of some strands of feminist governmentality seems to be immensely instructive in understanding the ethos of what begins as a collective social struggle and ends up as an arm of chiefly individualised struggle for power within a state or state-like system. If one is to pursue the Foucauldian approach even further, this unsolicited urge is perhaps the very fabric of the post-post-Westphalian – biopoweristic – state, as described, for example, by Hardt and Negri. Another trait of the Pakistani case study is its class distinction. In a deeply classed society, governance feminism has taken a distinctive economic and socio-political organisational structure of the ruling classes, while retaining its claim to its former grassroots credentials. It is striking that this peculiar positionality is achieved by an active participation in what this paper describes as neoliberal unity, in which the state, the civil society and the so-called ‘international community’ subscribe to some form of neoliberal legality, with the language of human rights as a chief means of mediation and, indeed, synergy amongst them. Contemporaneous to and, by and large, resultant of this positionality is the marginalisation and gradual disappearance of non-neo-liberal forms of feminism in Pakistan. And, as elsewhere, this trend is epitomised in governance feminism’s increasing auto-conservative impulse – for instance, in distancing itself from sex workers, particularly those who are gender-variant. The community of khwajasara are a case in point here, with whom the paper's author has conducted most of his fieldwork. Their idiosyncratic cultural, social and legal position seems to offer a unique insight into an intrinsically xenophobic nature of governance feminism in Pakistan, one in which gender and class are concomitantly used as tools of social, economic and political exclusion. Finally, this paper explores, in the Pakistani context, what Janet Halley terms as place of prophetic madness – that outside space for critical intervention by embodying the vox clamantis in deserto, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. One way to frame this discussion could be to revisit the spaces deserted by governance feminists and find out who inhabits them now and what they have to say. What comes to mind are, quite literally, the inner city slums of Lahore in which khwajasara retain their political, gender, class and discursive distinction. Without any wish to romanticise such spaces, it is arguable that they are of both symbolic and material significance for understanding the pitfalls of feminist governmentality in Pakistan, and beyond. Their ‘legal madness’ is notable, too, as they seem almost out of reach for the state regulative mechanisms, save perhaps for the occasional show of force, epitomised in police brutality, which is also, formally at least, illegal. What could, then, such milieux teach us about the past, present and future of feminist legal thought, and critiques thereof? What could the distinctive lifeworlds of their inhabitants tell us about gender politics, and its discursive distinction, in the age of neoliberal governance?

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Items (Paper)
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Centre for Gender Studies
Legacy Departments > Faculty of Law and Social Sciences > School of Law
School Research Centres > Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law
Departments and Subunits > School of Law
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions (Asia, Africa, Australia)
Date Deposited: 30 Sep 2014 09:13

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