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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Regine A. Spector

Second Advisor

Timothy Pachirat

Third Advisor

Lisa Björkman

Subject Categories

Comparative Politics | Urban Studies and Planning


This dissertation looks beyond narratives of the chaotic urban south to examine the politics of city planning and everyday service access in Pakistan. I draw on a case study of Karachi, what is perceived to be one of the world’s most unruly cities, to demonstrate how planning enables the representation of political order. Drawing on field research, I also explore the materialities, subjectivities, and histories of service access that shape urban politics in Karachi. I begin by tracing how planners in postcolonial Karachi have, for decades, described the rapidly expanding city as an object of correction. While early master plans sought to order and control Karachi’s physical form, planners in the 1980s, in line with a shift in global development ideas, focused on providing existing urban spaces with legal titles and bulk service provision. Advocating “slum improvement” policies, planners thus presented the city's perceived disorder as integral to urban renewal, development, and governance. In doing so, planners both discursively produced the formal and informal city and presented this dichotomy as crucial to Karachi’s urban order. In contemporary Karachi, however, representations of the city in artifacts such as maps and government ordinances elide and exist alongside ongoing processes of urban stasis and transformation. I therefore subsequently turn attention to everyday politics in the city by exploring how Karachi’s residents access a service crucial for survival: water. Drawing on seven months of field research, I show how the urban poor and low-level state officials navigate and reproduce the city’s fickle hydrologies. I also focus on how Karachi’s residents utilize the formalized domain of electoral politics as an avenue for material claim making in order to counteract their everyday precarity. Karachi’s postcolonial past and millennial present shows how political authority discursively (re)constitutes itself out of the very materialities that challenge its existence. The everyday coping mechanisms and temporally-bound electoral politics of access and belonging, in turn, demonstrates how the urban poor manage uncertainty while continuing to stake their right to the city.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.