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Department of Social Anthropology


I am an anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker studying ethics and comparative media in contemporary Pakistan. Having first studied film theory and production, I took up anthropology through the study of material, visual, and digital culture at University College London (UCL). My first book, “Public Demand: Film, Islam, and Atmosphere in a Pakistani Marketplace” is under contract with Columbia University Press. The manuscript was awarded the 2022 Claremont Prize in the Study of Religion. It is an ethnography of Lahore’s Hall Road, the largest electronics and media market in Pakistan. Caught between their economic base in secular media and their responsibilities as devoted Muslims, Hall Road’s traders frequently defer agency to the force of “public demand”. This investment in the virtues of public morality is rooted in a long tradition of inquiry into what the relationship between film and faith should look, sound, and feel like for Pakistan’s religiously diverse population. The book examines the preservation and censorship of film in and outside of the state bureaucracy, contestations surrounding heritage and urban infrastructure, and the production and circulation of sound and video recordings among the country’s religious minorities. Situated ethnographically among traders, consumers, collectors, archivists, cinephiles, and cinephobes, Public Demand argues that the atmospheric conditions of media in Pakistan provide ways of conceiving of moral thresholds that are mutable and affective, rather than as fixed ethical standpoints.

I joined the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in 2020 as an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow. My current project, for which I hold a Leverhulme / Isaac Newton Trust Early Career Fellowship, centres on the performance of belief among the Shi’i minority in Pakistan. At a fifth of the population, the Shi’a form the largest religious minority in Pakistan where they occupy a precarious position in relation to a Sunni-Islamic majority state. Despite the threat of marginalization and violence, finding new avenues through which to practice publicity has become central to Shi’i groups’ demands for recognition. Examining the affective conditions through which the Shi’a disclose their faith, this project will provide the empirical grounding for a new theory of ethical life through the study of “threshold media”. In these events of mediation, remaining on the middle ground while the poles of order and disorder realign involves heightened attunement not only to how things are but also to the changing boundaries of how they might be.

My work has appeared in journals such as Comparative Studies in Society and History, Material Religion, and the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. I have also disseminated my research at co-convened panels at international conferences, and in curatorial, journalistic, and impact projects, including the organisation of a major international retrospective on Pakistani film at the British Film Institute, as well as radio documentaries, and the production of four ethnographic films screened at international festivals. My fieldwork methods build on this experience, involving collaborative engagements with filmmaking, live recording, and devotional media.



(Under Contract).   Public Demand: Film, Islam, and Atmosphere in a Pakistani Media Marketplace. (Columbia University Press). Book Series: Religion, Culture, and Public Life.

Journal Articles

Forthcoming: “Recitations on the threshold: the ethics and virtue affects of Pakistani Shi’i qaṣīda”.  Journal of Ethnomusicology.

2022.  ““Live has an atmosphere of its own”: Azadari, ethical orientation, and tuned presence in Shi’i media praxis”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 28 (2)Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]

2022.  Mood As Medium: Reconstruction and the Material Speculations of “New Heritage”, Journal of Material Culture. Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]

2021. “Essence in Excess: Heritage and the Problem of Potentiality”. Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale. 29, 4: 1099-1105 Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]

2021. “3D Ziyarat: Lenticularity and technologies of the moving image in material and visual piety.” Material Religion, 17 (3), 291-316. Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]. (Cover Image)  

2020. "The Kaččā and the Pakkā: Disenchanting the Film Event in Pakistan." Comparative Studies in Society and History (62.2): 262-295.

2018. “Cinema Itself: Cinephobia, Filmic Anxieties, and Ontologies of the Moving Image in Pakistan.” Visual Anthropology, (31, 3). 253-267.

2017. “Raddi Infrastructure: Collecting Film Memorabilia in Pakistan: An Interview with Guddu Khan of Guddu’s Film Archive.” In BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, (7, 2): 151–171.

2015. “Migratory Surfaces” in AfterImage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, (42, 4): 8-15.

Book Chapters

2020.  Chapter: “The Circulatory Dynamics of Pakistani Film”, in Film and Cinephilia in Pakistan: Beyond Life and Death. Ali Nobil Ahmad and Ali Khan eds. (London & Karachi: Oxford University Press): 211-229. [Fieldwork photograph featured as book cover]. 

2015.  Chapter: “‘The Black Market Archive: The Velocity, Intensity, and Spread of Pakistani Film Piracy” in Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Knowledge Production in the Middle East, Anthony Downey ed, (London: I.B Tauris): 401-418.

Selected Journalistic Essays

2018.  “Sacred Hunger: The Cinema of Jamil Dehlavi” Sight and Sound Magazine Vol 28, Issue 9

2016.  “Diverse Documents: Surrealism, Anthropology, and Michel Leiris,” FriezeMasters Magazine Issue 5.

2016.  “From the Ground Up: 3D Printing and Destroyed Artifacts,” Frieze Magazine Issue 182.

2016.  “Capacious Tapes: Audiocassettes as Intangible Cultural Heritage.” ArtPapers. March/April.

2015.  “Welcome to Containerstan: how the shipping container took over the world”, NewStatesman. Online. 4/2/15. 

2015.  On Informality and Nomadism.” ArtPapers. March/April 

2015.  The Visual Archive of Devotion and Taboo.” Rhizome (New Museum, NY). Online. 01/07/15. 

2014.  Destruction Ceremonies as 21st Century Book Burning.” Rhizome (New Museum, NY).  Online. 19/06/14. 

Ethnographic Filmmaking

2021.   This is a Majlis: A Sound Essay
Directed by Timothy Cooper and Abeera Arif-Bashir, 2020. 17mins.                     
Screenings: Official Selection, Short Film Prize Category, 17th Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival. Screened in Decolonising the Archive shorts category.
Intangible Cultural Heritage Category, Festival Kolektiv Vizantrop, Belgrade, Serbia.   

2019.   Scratches on Celluloid
Directed by Timothy Cooper & Vindhya Buthpitiya, 2018, 53mins.  Screenings: Divvy Film Festival 2021, PILAC, Lahore, Pakistan.  Colomboscope Biennial 2021. Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai. (over 600 viewers) SOAS Ethnographic Film Series, Russell Square, London UK.  Library Selection, 16th Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival.  Official Selection, 12th Biannual Film SouthAsia Festival. Kathmandu, Nepal.

2018.   The Storehouses of the World
Directed by Timothy Cooper and Abeera Arif-Bashir, 2018. 27mins. 
Screenings: Visual Image Network Conference, University of Manchester, UK.
Library Selection, 16th Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival.

SOAS Ethnographic Film Series, Russell Square, London UK.
Directed by Timothy Cooper, 70mins. 
Screenings:  Official Selection, Student Prize Category, 15th Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival & Q&A.
SOAS Ethnographic Film Series, Russell Square, London UK.

Public Impact Projects

2021.   Exhibition and discussion of 5 specially commissioned short films. Colomboscope Biennial 2021The Space of the Cinema in the Post-Crisis City with Vindhya Buthpitiya. Curated by Natasha Ginwala. Held at Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai, UAE. Facebook Live event watched by 500+ users.

2021.   Three-part, multi-platform sound essay on Shi’i, ritual, and recording media in Pakistan,

Part 1, This is a Majlis: A Sound Essay.  Screened at the Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival

Part 2, The Recorded and the LiveShi’i Islamic Media in Pakistan. With Charles Hirschkind, Karen Ruffle, and Abeera Arif-Bashir. Hosted on Camthropod, the Cambridge Anthropology Podcast. [1600 listens in first month]

Part 3, Recitations for Muharram and Ashura. Broadcast and archived on NTS Radio. 

2018.   Public Film Retrospective, British Film Institute, London.  Between The Sacred and Profane: The Cinema of Jamil Dehlavi, Co-curator with Ali Nobil Ahmad. Three-day season of films, a study day and symposium including chairing public interview with director Jamil Dehlavi. Resulted in BFI restoration and DVD/Blu-Ray release of focal film The Blood of Hussain.

Press coverage: Jamil Dehlavi Interview with Fatima Bhutto”, The Guardian 09/09/18.

“’Jinnah’ Filmmaker to be showcased by British Film Institute”, Pakistan Express Tribune, 08/08/18.

“Sacred Hunger: The Cinema of Jamil Dehlavi” Sight and Sound Magazine. 08/18

2014 – present  Pirate Modernity.  Co-founder of archival collective exploring popular music from Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan. Main output: monthly radio show on from 2015 to present.

Selected events include: 

One-hour special of Tristan Bath’s live programme on Resonance FM. 27/07/15
Headline live DJ set, Café Oto, London. 12/08/16.
Press coverage: “Pirate Modernity”, Re:Orient Magazine. 31/01/17 Crack Magazine Mix of the Year 2016, “Spool’s Out”, The Quietus, 26/09/14

Leverhulme Trust / Isaac Newton Trust Early Career Fellow
Research Associate, Max Planck - Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change
College Research Associate, King’s College

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