Tariq Rahman: “Being Modern in Bhakkar”
Fall 2013 Slape Award Winner Tariq Rahman
“Being Modern in Bhakkar: A Gated Community in Rural Pakistan”
In Winter 2014, I traveled to Pakistan to conduct research for my MA thesis in a gated community in Bhakkar, a rural district in the Punjab province. I first encountered the gated community on a previous trip to Pakistan during Summer 2013, during which I was pursuing my initial interest in agriculture and participatory development. However, when I noticed this site, as well as how out of place it was with its surrounding locality, my research interests completely switched gears. I returned to the US and was fortunate enough to receive the George and Conni Slape fellowship to support a more extended stay in Bhakkar in pursuit of my new MA thesis topic.
I spent approximately two months living at the Gulshan-e-Madina housing society in Bhakkar. I conducted semi-structured interviews with the gated community’s owners and residents, as well as various local residents who did not live in Gulshan-e-Madina. I questioned why people chose to live in a gated community in Bhakkar, how living in a gated community differed from living in the area’s traditional housing scheme – the mohalla – and in what ways global cultural flows (i.e. electronic media and mass migration) had contributed to the materialization of this ‘place.’
When I wasn’t busy with the rigors of research, I used my TEFL training to teach beginner-intermediary level English classes at the gated community’s primary school and conduct workshops with the school’s teachers. These experiences allowed me to give something in return to my incredibly gracious hosts. They also provided a more intimate interaction with residents of the gated community than was possible through formal interviews, helping to broaden my perspective of my research site.
Though the data analysis phase of my project is still in its preliminary stages, I am greatly enjoying unraveling all of the fascinating experiences that I had in Bhakkar. My aim is to produce an MA thesis that makes an intervention on established theories of space and place, and provides a foundation for a doctoral program in the future. I am incredibly grateful to the Department of International Studies for the support that they have and continue to provide me during this project.