Walking and Talking the Gendered State: Women, Security and Authority in Karachi, Pakistan

Husain, Fauzia, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Pugh, Allison, AS-Sociology, University of Virginia

This dissertation draws on an in-depth examination of the experiences and routine practices of three groups of state-employed women security-service-workers charged with extending state capacity by serving and regulating women citizens in Karachi, Pakistan. Drawing on 120 interviews and hundreds of hours of field observations, I construct two specific explanations for the glass ceiling these women experience. First, I outline the symbolic problems these women face in occupying state-based security-service roles, which are understood in the Pakistani context as tainted for women. Second, I describe the relational repercussions that result from these symbolic issues. Specifically, I argue that beyond gendered organizational scripts and templates, the glass ceiling is upheld also by the cultural and relational problem of performative mismatch. In the workplace, as in other arenas of social life, people are constrained to do gender in ways that conform to broader cultural expectations. Performances that do not accord with these expectations are read as mismatched or incongruent. As we know from gender scholarship, mismatched performances can provoke repercussions for actors deemed to be in violation of gender norms. But as I show in this dissertation, mismatched performances can create other important outcomes for workplace success, such performances can also constrain women’s relational capacities, their ability to get people to buy into their self-presentations, to cooperate with their projects and aspirations and to welcome them into various networks. Performative mismatch therefore can cause women to get left behind at work in two ways, first by reinforcing a sense of their lack of fit or competency for a particular position and second by undermining their relational abilities within the social space of work. By focusing on ways that these two mechanisms, cultural and relational, come together in performance to uphold the glass ceiling, this dissertation illuminates not only how gendered exclusion and subordination is structured in the workplace but also how power within the state comes to be constructed through interactive performance in gendered and classed ways.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Agency, Gender, Security, Power, Corruption, Networks
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