Agency and its Discontents: Nationalism and Gender in the Work of Pakistani Women

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores the fraught intersections between gender and the nationalist
imaginary in the work of Pakistani women writers, from the period of the country’s
inception in 1947 to more contemporary narrative treatments of the subject and its various tropes.The central concern is how these complex literary interventions figure across a hegemonic nationalist historiography which refuses to grant them a representational space. My project views the literary practice of these women authors in terms of what is at stake when their varied and diverse gendered contributions compel Pakistani nationalist discourse to re-evaluate its own precarious ideological foundations. These writers and the repressed histories their texts are a repository for, negotiate a tenuous path between the potentially regenerative power of an independent, postcolonial future and their position as marginalised silence within this supposedly ‘inclusive’reality.

The project addresses its main research questions in an Introduction and four
chapters. The first section unpacks how the work of authors such as Khadija Mastoor and Hijab Imtiaz Ali has been elided across various postcolonial discourses. In Chapter 1 I examine the various routes to agency that have been theorised by feminists in the postcolonial context and how this can be applied to the work of Pakistani writers, Farkhanda Lodhi and A.R. Khatun. These methodologies are tested III against the bloody Partitioning of the Indian sub-continent in the second chapter, necessitating a rethink of the possibilities of agency represented by the female body when it is under the threat of violence and erasure. My penultimate chapter focuses on the seemingly banal, but immensely popular genre of romance literature in Pakistan, on which very little research has been conducted. To this end I have chosen Qaisra Shahraz's romance epic, The Holy Woman. The final chapter explores tropes of
migration and return in the diasporic imaginary of contemporary Pakistani women
writers, Bapsi Sidhwa, Kamila Shamsie and Uzma Aslam Khan and their novels An
American Brat, Kartography and Trespassing respectively.
Date of Award1 Sept 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAnna Snaith (Supervisor), Ruvani Ranasinha (Supervisor) & Sarah Salih (Supervisor)

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