'But you haven't told me about yourself' : women's digests in Pakistan as an affective space of belonging

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2013-12

Authors

Ahmed, Kiran Nazir

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Abstract

This report demonstrates how encounters between readers, writers and editors of a low-brow genre of Urdu fiction, create an affective space of belonging. This genre is published in commercial monthly magazines (commonly known as women’s digests) that contain narratives of feminine domesticity, primarily written by and for women, in Pakistan. Drawing on ethnographic work (archival and interviews) with authors, readers and editors of two monthlies, this study traces the contours of digest community as an affective space of belonging that provides a ‘complex of confirmation and consolation’ on how to be a woman in Pakistan’s changing social milieu. It further argues that recent proliferation of cell phones has led to a new sensibility in this community that has its own rhythm of sound. Previously readers would communicate through published letters mediated by editors. However, now there is direct contact between these two groups, through cell phones. Digest narratives are now also being drawn from experiences readers share with authors over cell phone conversations. This sharing is not factual as such, but rather an affective exchange of feelings about facts. Thus, these conversations can be seen as a shared emotional experience where the lack of visual cues regarding social class, age and ethnicity (since readers and writers rarely meet each other) leads to voices becoming just that – voices that share life stories and experiences. There is thus a transient coming together of women who are mostly unrelated by kinship or ethnicity; and a sociality is formed between strangers with its own sensory feel of rhythm and sound, through the medium of the cell phone. This work contributes to interdisciplinary scholarship on how media and technology is a negotiation between material properties of technologies being introduced and the particular effects in forming new affects and sensibilities; and how dominant representations of Muslim women as a singular and stable category of analysis, can be spoken back to, by highlighting their myriad voices and understanding them beyond the usual tropes of victimhood and emancipation.

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