A harbor in the tempest: megaprojects, identity, and the politics of place in Gwadar, Pakistan



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This dissertation seeks to understand the ways in which Pakistani government’s attempts to initiate large-scale infrastructure development projects in Balochistan Province have transformed its social and political landscape. Ethnographically, the study focuses on Gwadar, a small coastal town in Pakistan’s western Balochistan Province to show how colonial and postcolonial projects of progress and development suppress or subsume other kinds of lived geographies and imaginations of place. Keeping in mind the centrality of everyday experiences in generating social forms, this dissertation describes how development, transnationalism, and ethnic identity are (re)configured. It is based on ethnographic encounters that foreground the lived experiences and imaginations of fishermen from Med kinship and occupational group who occupy a subaltern position within the local status hierarchy in Gwadar. On the one hand, the promise of becoming modern citizens of the future mega city incites new desires and longings among those fishermen that facilitate their incorporation into emergent regimes of labor and entrepreneurship. On the other hand, Pakistani security forces have tightened their control over the local population by establishing a cordon sanitaire around Gwadar Port and the town. These mechanisms of control have disrupted local fishermens experiences of place and intimate sociality and introduced elements of exclusion, fear, and paranoia. By interrupting the fishermens expectations of their rightful place in the city, it compels them to think of alternate ways to confront the state’s development agenda, including peaceful protest and armed struggle. The dissertation concludes, tentatively, that the imposition of political violence by state authorities that accompanies the structural violence of mega infrastructure projects tends to create a mirror effect whereby the victims of development adopt a language of violence and a different idiom of identity.