MA South Asian Studies (2013) graduate Sarah Ahmed won the best MA Paper Award at the University of Oregon, where she is currently completing her phD in the department of Sociology. Professor Aaron Gullickson, Associate Professor in the department of Sociology and Director of Graduate Studies , discusses Sarah’s paper:“Before discussing Sarah’s excellent paper, let me just say that this was a particularly difficult year for the committee because of the quality of MA papers we were reading. Although the committee ultimately agreed unanimously on Sarah’s paper as the award winner, this occurred only after a lively and rich discussion in which the committee fairly rigorously self-evaluated what we mean by “best” in a discipline with such substantive and methodological breadth. We were very impressed by all of the papers we read.Sarah’s paper stood out for its novelty, the depth of its theoretical insight, and frankly the bravery required to undertake such a project. In particular, the committee was impressed by the way in which Sarah tied macro-level processes of state legitimacy to the micro-level experience of gender inequality and women’s agency in rural villages. The paper promises to contribute to a lively and consequential debate on development, globalization, and gender. The full abstract is below:Under what conditions does external pressure on Pakistan’s government result in policy change pertaining to women? And, specifically, how do policy changes maneuver through the regime and informal, quasi-juridical Islamic courts in rural Pakistan to impact, if at all, women’s agency? This study engages historically specific process in Pakistan to examine how macro structural developments influence micro relationships in rural areas, specifically in women’s agency. Using field data gathered in 2015, this paper contends that the Pakistani state has been confronted with a dual legitimacy crisis, at national and global fronts, that has created new spaces for women’s agency. In other words, the Pakistan state’s actions to exercise control within, and willingness to cooperate with international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), has altered socio-political and gendered spaces in small rural villages wherein the scope of women’s activity has widened: women in these spaces are re-negotiating power relationships and making patriarchal bargains to strategically gain resources and decision-making powers. These actions, however, are still embedded in a larger structure of patriarchy and state control, restricting rural women’s agency to more collective and informal channels. The dual legitimacy crisis arose at a confluence of external influences by international actors and pressures by an amalgamation of (internal) powerful urban, religious and military elites, all which pose a threat to the state’s legitimacy within its borders. Contention on the state’s legitimacy has allowed international organizations to break new ground and urge for development, especially in rural areas. It is within these rural villages that macro processes create avenues and widen women’s agency.”
Congratulations to Sarah- UW is proud of you!