Timely Histories

Fixing the future: Money, morality and disability in colonial and postcolonial Karachi

Minerwa Tahir (Doctoral Candidate)

This project will look at a social history of time in Karachi in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries to uncover the history of futures as imagined by a cross-section of society. The research will be undertaken as part of Timely Histories: A Social History of Time in South Asia.

When and how did people begin to realise the need for planning a secure future? How did the development of capitalism shape their understanding of time and future planning? In the search for answers, the unit will focus particularly on transgressing the binary of the modern and traditional, looking at how people’s planning of the future combined newly introduced economic safety institutions, such as pensions and life insurance, with spiritual methods of securing one's future, such as frequenting shrines and fortune-tellers.

While the methodological focus remains on temporality, the object of the unit’s study is people who experienced disability either directly on their own bodies or by caring for someone disabled and how that impacted the social meaning of time for them. Disability is not just a condition of physical impairment alone but the overall power dynamic embodied by normative able-bodiedness, that is, the ways in which society disables one on the basis of differentiations such as physical or mental impairments, long-term illnesses and conditions, or age. We seek to understand how the social meaning of time interacted with the social meaning of disability.

The project is interdisciplinary in a number of ways: it mobilizes both historical and anthropological methods including archival, oral historical, and ethnographic research.