Sidra Kamran
Sidra Kamran, 2023 Awardee

The New School, 2022

Dissertation Title: Work, Class Ambiguity, and Multiple Femininities: Women Beauty and Retail Workers in Pakistan’s New Service Economy 

Advisor: Dr. Rachel Sherman

Dissertation Abstract: Pakistan’s recent transition to a service economy has created expanding numbers of women beauty and retail workers in a country that has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world. Drawing on interviews and a year of ethnographic fieldwork in Meena Bazaar (a women-only marketplace) and Delight (a budget department store), I argue that beauty and retail jobs in Pakistan are defined by “gendered class ambiguity.” By systematically analyzing the labor process and labor market for women, I show how gender and class dynamics converge to produce beauty and retail workers as individuals who are considered economically in-between (neither working class nor middle class) and morally in-between (both “good women” and “bad women”). Women leverage this ambiguity in creative ways for their personal gain by oscillating between idealized and stigmatized femininities as they struggle for class status. These gendered struggles for distinction strain emergent relations between workers, ultimately producing splintered intimacies instead of solidarities among women. This dissertation thus explains how monetary and moral economies interact to shape the lives of low-wage service workers and advances a structural analysis of gender performances in the context of social stratification. By theorizing the mechanisms that undergird gendered class ambiguity, it contributes analytic clarity to gender and class analysis in South Asia and advocates for supplementing the dominant frames of the “new middle class” and “new womanhood” with analyses of the emerging “new working classes” in South Asia.



The Pirzada Prize for 2022 has been awarded to two dissertations (instead of just one): one by Dr. Zahra Hayat (UC Berkeley) and the other by Dr. Shozab Raza (University of Toronto). The prize monies have been split between the two prize recipients. Read more below:

Zahra Hayat
Zahra Hayat, 2022 Awardee

UC Berkeley, 2022

Dissertation Title: The Scandal of Access: Pharmaceuticals in Pakistan

Advisor: Professor Cori Hayden

Dissertation Abstract: Pakistan has among the world’s lowest drug prices, and Western multinationals rarely apply for drug patents there. Yet, despite the absence of these quintessential barriers to access, Pakistanis confront some of the highest global burdens of treatable yet untreated diseases, perpetual shortages of lifesaving drugs, and an epidemic of unpalliated pain at the end of life due to morphine scarcity. This paradox, devastating in its consequences, lies at the heart of this dissertation.

The dissertation argues that to understand the paradoxes of access in Pakistan, we must radically rethink the relationships between access and its determinants. Specifically, it demonstrates the counterintuitive relationship between access and price, showing how prices that are too low can deprive people of medicines; between access and intellectual property, showing how drug patents can exert powerful effects even in places where they do not exist—what I call “spectral property”; and between access and quality, demonstrating that despite the proliferation of several competing brands of the ‘same’ drug in Pakistani markets, these versions are in fact so different from one another that consumers cannot know what they are ingesting. The dissertation develops an analytic of ‘scandal’, departing from familiar tropes of crisis and state failure to voice an ethical-political critique of how specific instruments of global capitalism articulate with national regulatory and legal systems to hinder access in counterintuitive ways.

Shozab Raza
Shozab Raza, 2022 Awardee

University of Toronto, 2022

Dissertation Title: Theory from the Trenches: Revolutionary Decolonization on Pakistan’s Landed Estates

Advisor: Professor Tania Murray Li

Dissertation Abstract: Theory from the Trenches ethnographically pursues theory’s global itinerary and reinvention. Drawing on 20 months of research, this historical ethnography specifically explores how peasant revolutionaries in Pakistan’s South Punjab region creatively theorized to accelerate a revolutionary movement to remake the country and indeed the world. During the 1970s, many of these landless peasants enrolled in a communist party, the Mazdoor Kisan Party (MKP), that energized them to occupy the region’s landed estates (jagirs) and confront colonially-inherited inequalities. The party also inspired peasants to see “theory,” now an emic category, as necessary to both their and the world’s liberation. Several peasants subsequently theorized across various local and transnational traditions to further a universal project of mazdur kisan raj (worker-peasant rule). Some, like “Sufi” Sibghatullah Mazari, combined Marxism and Sufism in a “mystical Marxism.” Other peasant revolutionaries, like Manzoor Buhar, reimagined Siraiki nationalism as a vehicle for worldly emancipation. Still others, like Allah Baksh Baloch, drew on Baloch tribal relations to add substance to the relational world communism sought to install. I conceptualize these peasant experiments in theory-making, both in and beyond this fieldsite, as trench theory, with the trench metaphor flagging a mode of subterranean theorizing geared specifically toward political combat.

Theory from the Trenches contributes to wide-ranging conversations – across political anthropology, South Asian studies, and post/decolonial studies – concerning decolonization. Whereas some scholars argue that various anti-imperialist movements, from the Haitian Revolution to Third World socialism, were the true harbingers of universal Enlightenment ideals, while others maintain that they were inspired by non-European indigenous epistemologies, even alternative universalisms, I explore how peasant revolutionaries theorized ideational linkages across traditions to promote a universal mazdur kisan raj. Ultimately, the dissertation recasts peasants as worldly theoretical actors, destabilizing various distinctions – like rural/urban, theory/practice and universal/particular – that have conventionally framed the study of decolonization in the global South.



Amna Qayyum, 2021 Awardee

Princeton University, 2021

Dissertation Title: The Demographic State: Population, Global Biopolitics, and Decolonization in South Asia, c. 1947-71

Advisor: Prof. Gyan Prakash

Dissertation Abstract: In 1961 Pakistan became the second country in the world to enact an official fertility control policy. Over the course of the next decade, by transforming a prior urban, clinical focus into an expansive statewide project of population control, Pakistan emerged as an epicenter for international demographic research and practice. In dialogue with a “global population establishment”, both East and West Pakistani actors debated effective methods for calculating demographic statistics, while crafting strategies for the mass adoption of particular contraceptive technologies and reshaping socio-cultural norms. These transnational projects of population control also stimulated debate over normative state power, political and economic inequities between East and West Pakistan, and Cold War geopolitics - ultimately shaping protests against Ayub Khan’s authoritarian regime during the late 1960s.

Set within the context of two partitions – of British India in 1947 and the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971 – The Demographic State makes fresh theoretical interventions by foregrounding reproduction to analyze intersections between postcolonial developmentalism, authoritarian forms of governance, and Cold War geopolitics in Pakistan. Drawing on archival and oral historical materials from a transnational set of social scientists, physicians, women’s welfare activists, Islamic modernists, bureaucrats, and everyday citizens this dissertation examines how intersecting local and global currents of population management were crucial in shaping normative understandings of gender, development, and Islamic authority; fashioning new practices and technologies of authoritarian state-making; and instituting racialized regimes of global governance. Building on histories of decolonization, Cold War science and technology, and Islamic thought, The Demographic State then analyzes how the encounters between postcolonial sovereignty and global biopolitics unfolded in everyday Pakistan.

The award ceremony took place on Feb 7, 2023. Video of the lecture is below. 


2021 Honorable Mention

Ghazal Asif Farrukhi's dissertation, Marvi's Sisters: Hindu Belonging and the Muslim State in Pakistan (Johns Hopkins University, 2021) is the recipient of Honorable Mention for the Pirzada Dissertation Prize.

Prize Announcement

Ahsan Kamal
Ahsan Kamal, 2020 Awardee


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2019

Dissertation Title: Saving Sindhu: Indus Enclosure and River Defense in Pakistan

Advisor: Prof. Charles Kurzman

Dissertation Abstract: This dissertation is an inquiry into the death and defense of rivers through three stories of enclosures and activism from the Sindhu darya. Scholars of water politics in Pakistan typically pay little attention to the fishers, traditional irrigators, and riverine peoples. I focused on the strategic and creative rationalities of riverine activists, and asked: Why (and how) do ideas of river defense take hold in some places along the Indus and not others?

Read the complete abstract HERE.

The award ceremony will take place on Monday, April 12, 2021 from 9-11 am. Please join us if you can. Registration details here
Prize Announcement

Maira Hayat Ph.D. 2019 Awardee
Maira Hayat, 2019 Awardee


University of Chicago, 2019

Dissertation Title: Ecologies of Water Governance in Pakistan: The Colony, the Corporation and the Contemporary

Advisor: Prof. William T.S. Mazzarella

Dissertation Abstract: Pakistan has one of the world’s largest irrigation networks and an agriculture-dependent economy. Groundwater extraction has made the Indus Basin the world’s second most “overstressed aquifer.” Bottled water corporations, reliant on extracting groundwater, are currently demanding more tax concessions in court, claiming that instead of doing business they provide a “public service” given the state’s failure to provide clean water. In 2018, Pakistan declared a national water scarcity crisis. This was not Pakistan’s first water ‘crisis:’ from the 1950s’ “crisis of waterlogging and salinity,” to India-Pakistan hostility over shared rivers stoking U.S. Cold War era-fears and intervention, water has long provided the material from, against and with which the promise of modernity is crafted.

Ecologies of Water Governance in Pakistan: The Colony, the Corporation and the Contemporary examines the performativity of ‘state failure,’ arguing that the public-private distinction is produced in the ethical labor bureaucrats expend in not doing ‘corruption;’ in court intervention; and in regimes of corporate profitability. The dissertation has three temporal anchors: British colonial rule; the 1960s, Pakistan’s “Decade of Development;” and the present moment. It is based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Read the complete abstract HERE.

The award ceremony took place on Monday, Nov 30, 2020 from 9-11 pm.
Prize Announcement

Salman Hussain
Salman Hussain

 2018 Awardee


City University of New York, 2018

Dissertation Title: Together Without Consensus: Class, Emotions and the Politics of the Rule of Law in the Lawyers’ Movement (2007-09) in Pakistan

Advisor: Prof. Avram Bornstein

Dissertation Abstract: Together Without Consensus is an ethnographic examination of how political emotions, historical memory and notion(s) of the rule of law are mobilized in postcolonial Pakistan. It suggests that liberal legality (the rule of law, judiciary and courts) and discourses of rights have become popular hegemonic languages for mobilizing political protests and legal claims in South Asia. Based on 20 months of fieldwork in Pakistan, the dissertation studies a protest movement, the Lawyers’ Movement for the Restoration of Judiciary and Democracy (2007-09), that was led by lawyers and their allies in the educated and professional middle-classes. It investigates how the lawyers successfully galvanized Pakistanis against military rule and led efforts to restore the higher judiciary. The dissertation addresses how the political agency of individuals and groups, advocating disparate religious, ‘secular’ and liberal ideals, is formed collectively, and how they engage in political action without necessarily generating a consensus before hand. This dissertation further points to how liberal legality and rights discourses have become hegemonic, in the process enabling new sites of popular protest and agitation in postcolonial South Asia.

The award ceremony will take place on Friday, April 26, 2019 from 4-6 pm.
Prize Announcement

William Sherman
William Sherman, 2017 Awardee


Stanford University, 2017

Dissertation Title: “Mountains and Messiahs: The Roshaniyya, Revelation, and Afghan Becoming”

Advisor: Prof. Shahzad Bashir

Dissertation Abstract: Mountains and Messiahs analyzes a sixteenth-century Sufi messianic movement known as the Roshaniyya (“the illuminated ones”) popular among the Afghan communities of the northwestern regions of the Mughal Empire in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. While the Roshaniyya under the leadership of Bayazid Ansari and his family clashed with Mughal armies, there was a more profound contest over the nature of language and divine revelation. How does a “vernacular” language become the language of God? By telling a history of the “practice of revelation” amid the highlands between Peshawar, Kaniguram, and Kabul, this project rejects the over-reliance upon tribe and ethnicity as explanatory categories that isolate the Roshaniyya movement. Rather, through an immanent reading of Roshani texts and the text of their critics, this project traces rival ideologies of language and temporality, demonstrating the significance of these contests in the emergence of new imaginings of Afghan identity and the role of Pashto. While the focus of this dissertation rests with communities inhabiting regions of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, the analysis of the Roshaniyya evokes larger patterns of the inherent diversity in pre-modern Muslim engagements with the Qur’an, revelation, sainthood, and conditions of belonging.

The award ceremony took place on Thursday, April 26, 2018. 
Prize Announcement

Simon Wolfgang Fuchs
Simon Wolfgang Fuchs, 2015 Awardee

(Not offered)


Princeton University, 2015

Dissertation Title: “Relocating the Centers of Shīʿī Islam: Religious Authority, Sectarianism, and the Limits of the Transnational in Colonial India and Pakistan”

Adviser: Muhammad Qasim Zaman

Dissertation Abstract: This dissertation rethinks the common center-periphery perspective which frames the Middle East as the seat of authoritative religious reasoning vis-à-vis a marginal South Asian Islam. Drawing on 15 months of archival research and interviews conducted in Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, and the United Kingdom, I demonstrate how Shīʿī and Sunnī religious scholars (ʿulamāʾ) in colonial India and Pakistan negotiate a complex web of closeness and distance that connects them to eminent Muslim jurists residing in the Arab lands and Iran. The project attempts to move beyond scholarly paradigms that investigate the transnational travel of ideas in terms of either resistance and rejection or wholesale adoption. Rather, I show how local South Asian scholars occupy a creative and at times disruptive role as brokers, translators, and self-confident pioneers of modern and contemporary Islamic thought. Read the complete abstract HERE.

The award ceremony took place on Saturday, April 9, 2016.

2015 Honorable Mention

Layli Uddin's dissertation, "In The Land of Eternal Eid: Maulana Bhashani and the Political Mobilisation of Peasants and Lower-Class Urban Workers in East Pakistan, c. 1930s-1971" is the recipient of Honorable Mention for the Pirzada Dissertation Prize.

Amber Heather Abbas
Amber Heather Abbas, Ph.D.

2014 Awardee


The University of Texas at Austin, 2012

Dissertation Title: Narratives of Belonging: Aligarh Muslim University and the Partitioning of South Asia

Supervisor: Gail Minault

Dissertation Abstract: The partition of India that accompanied its independence from Great Britain in 1947 also created the additional state of Pakistan; by 1971, this Pakistan had fractured into the two independent states of Pakistan and Bangladesh. This dissertation seeks to expand our temporal and spatial understanding of the sub-continent’s partitioning by examining the experiences of a group of South Asian Muslims across time and space. As this dissertation will show, South Asia’s partitioning includes more than the official history of boundary creation and division of assets, and more than the people’s history of unbridled border violence. I have oriented my investigation around a single institution, the Aligarh Muslim University, and spoken to former students of the 1940s and 1950s, whose young lives were shaped by the independence and partition of India. The memories of these former students of Aligarh University offer a lens for examining the “multiple realities” of partition and the decolonized experiences of South Asian Muslims. 

The educational institution at Aligarh, founded in 1875, had long been concerned with cultivating a sporting, activist, masculine identity among its students; Muslim League leaders further empowered that identity as they recruited students for election work in support of Pakistan. The students embraced the values of the demand for Pakistan that appeared to be consistent with the values engendered at Aligarh. This dissertation uncovers the history of these students throughout the 1947 partitioning and beyond. It explores unexpected histories of trauma among communities who “chose to stay” but later experienced a powerful sense of discontinuity in independent India. It exposes contradictions evident in remembered histories from Pakistanis who express both triumph and grief at the prospect of Pakistani independence. Finally, this dissertation assesses the position of Muslims after partition and how the “disturbances” that began in the late 1940s continue to affect them today in both lived and remembered experience.

As a site for examining the disturbances of partition, Aligarh University proves to be a hub of a community that was and remains deeply transformed by the changes partition wrought.

The award ceremony took place on Saturday, April 25, 2015.