Attachment, articulation and agency : a glimpse into the world of women digest writers in Pakistan




Ahmed, Kiran Nazir

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This dissertation presents an ethnographic account of women fiction writers’ engagement with digest genre and the community (of readers and writers) formed around it. Digest genre is published in Urdu monthly magazines, usually known as women’s digests. These fictional stories are extremely popular and have the highest circulation of all fictional genres in Pakistan. However, they are socially perceived as “low brow” and disavowed as having no literary merit. In this context, this ethnography traces the specific forms attachment, articulation and agency take in the lives of women whose stories resonate with many, but who also face the critique of not being authentic writers. It does so by exploring questions such as: How do digest writers develop attachments and bonds of friendship in the absence of physical proximity (since writers rarely meet each other or their readers)? How do digest writers articulate lived realities—both of attachments in the digest community and the larger dynamics of living as a woman in Pakistan’s changing social milieu? How do they see fiction writing and what role do they see it playing in their individual lives? What challenges or opportunities do writers experience as they enter the arena of script writing for television, and how do they speak back to notions of their writing as inauthentic and frivolous? Methodologically, this research draws on twenty months of fieldwork, carried out in four urban cities (Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi) and villages in two provinces (Sindh and Punjab). Fieldwork took the form of archival work, semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, and participant observation. I closely followed the daily lives and work of digest writers of varying ages, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds. In addition, I conducted work with editors (who select and tailor digest narratives), admins (volunteers who manage readers’ groups through social media), readers and voluntary non-readers (individuals who are familiar with this genre but choose not to read it), television channel heads (who employ digest writers as script writers) and content managers at production houses (who select and tailor digest narratives for television audiences).



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