Everyday Peace in a Karachi Apartment Building
Laura A. Ring
Distribution: World
Publication date: 10/18/2006
ISBN: 978-0-253-11673-4
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Ethnic violence is a widespread concern, but we know very little about the micro-mechanics of coexistence in the neighborhoods around the world where inter-group peace is maintained amidst civic strife. In this ethnographic study of a multi-ethnic, middle-class high-rise apartment building in Karachi, Pakistan, Laura A. Ring argues that peace is the product of a relentless daily labor, much of it carried out in the zenana, or women’s space. Everyday rhythms of life in the building are shaped by gender, ethnic and rural/urban tensions, national culture, and competing interpretations of Islam. Women’s exchanges between households—visiting, borrowing, helping—and management of male anger are forms of creative labor that regulate and make sense of ethnic differences. Linking psychological senses of “tension” with anthropological views of the social significance of exchange, Ring argues that social-cultural tension is not so much resolved as borne and sustained by women’s practices. Framed by a vivid and highly personal narrative of the author’s interactions with her neighbors, her Pakistani in-laws, and other residents of the city, Zenana provides a rare glimpse into contemporary urban life in a Muslim society.

Author Bio

Laura A. Ring holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago.


". . . living among strangers remains an existential problem for many urban residents. In Karachi, a city riven by ethnic and sectarian violence since the 1980s, such problems take on added significance. In her gracefully written and incisively argued book, Laura Ring contends that the everyday efforts of women in Karachi to transform neighbors into—if not quite kin—something other than strangers, are the labors of peace." —Anthropological Quarterly

"Zenana is a well-written and highly readable book that neither assumes prior knowledge of the literature on Karachi or Pakistan nor simply rehearses old debates about Pakistan's political history. Ring, rather, introduces the reader to issues cetnral to Pakistani society through a careful consideration of ethnographic vignettes." —the Journal of Modern Asian Studies , Volume 44/2—2010

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Table of Contents

Note to the Reader

1. Introduction: The Zenana Revisited
2. A Day in the Life
3. Tension
4. Anger
5. Intimacy
6. Conclusion: Emotion and the Political Actor