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Experiencing the City as Workers: The Spatial Practices of Women Beauty and Retail Workers in Karachi, Pakistan

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Abstract

This chapter investigates how the otherwise “private” space of the workplace enables experiences associated with “public” life, especially for women in Karachi who have limited access to spaces besides the home and work. Drawing on observations in a bazaar and a department store in Karachi, in addition to interviews with beauty workers, retail workers, and managers, I explore how women workers experience the city through their workplaces. I find that women’s workplaces, despite being sites of managerial control and exploitative labor, allow women to experience a version of what public spaces are often assumed to provide: pleasure, freedom, and the opportunity to craft new identities. Drawing on theories of the multiplicity of space, I suggest that ideas of “publicness” vary across different subject positions and are shaped by complex inequalities. I ultimately make a case for more centrally including workplaces in our analyses of urban life.

Keywords

  • Urban life
  • Workplace
  • Public space
  • Pleasure
  • Gendered mobility

I am grateful to Smitha Radhakrishnan, Gowri Vijayakumar, Rachel Sherman, Natasha Ansari, and Sneha Annavarapu for their feedback on this chapter. This research was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, and the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies at The New School.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I have used pseudonyms for the department store and beauty and retail workers I discuss.

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Kamran, S. (2022). Experiencing the City as Workers: The Spatial Practices of Women Beauty and Retail Workers in Karachi, Pakistan. In: Radhakrishnan, S., Vijayakumar, G. (eds) Sociology of South Asia. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-97030-7_10

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-97030-7_10

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