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2019 AIPS Book Prize Winner!

AIPS is pleased to recognize the winner of the 2019 AIPS Book Prize as Ammara Maqsood for her recent book, "The New Pakistani Middle Class." The book, based on ethnographic field work in Lahore, weaves together ideas of religious identity, piety, consumption, and modernity into an enjoyable and accessible narrative. Maqsood’s work addresses key issues (e.g., religion and class) without overlooking the everyday details that entertain the reader. In this way, the author tells a story about life in contemporary, middle-class Lahore that is at once local and global.

The New Pakistani Middle Class contributes to several scholarly conversations at once. Most immediately, Maqsood’s study, whose ethnographic narrative is well-situated in Pakistani cultural and political history, engages with scholars working in and on Lahore. The book’s aim is to contextualize the rise of a more pious though still aspirational middle class that, in Maqsood’s evaluation, departs from the historically rooted middle class that has existed in the city before and after partition.

The ‘newer’ middle class participates in dars gatherings, where women especially read the Quran in the vernacular, as part of a broader project of self-improvement that, as Maqsood argues, also entails a specifically Islamic consumption that challenges stereotypes of the backwardness of piety. The ‘older’ middle class, in Maqsood’s characterization, supports more secular values and often leads with a nostalgia for a lost urbanity that purportedly thrived in the pre-Zia era. This group’s long-standing status in the city stands in contrast to the upward mobility of the new middle class.

In identifying two middle class formations distinguished by their historical standing, Maqsood also considers different conceptions of the ‘modern’ in Pakistan. One conception draws from Ayub’s modernizing project, while the other derives its impetus from newer interests in studying the Quran in local languages as part of efforts to nurture a sense of individual ethics.

Maqsood’s book highlights the complexities of class identifications in a specific location and of a particular history, which makes it of great interest to scholars in Pakistan Studies. At the same time, this work models a way to historicize ethnographic inquiry that will also inform other scholars’ approaches to a variety of subject areas.

To find a copy of the book, click here

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