MGSHSS Talk on Political Kinship by Professor Stephen M. Lyon

Monday, January 28, 2019 - 4:30pm
A-2, Academic Block, LUMS

The Dean's Office, Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences (MGSHSS) is organising a talk titled

‘Political Kinship: The State and Culture in Contemporary Pakistan’

Speaker: Professor Stephen M. Lyon, Head of Educational Programmes and Development, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University (International), UK

Date: Monday, January 28, 2019
Time: 4:30 pm — 6:00 pm
Venue: A-2, Academic Block, LUMS


About the Speaker

Prof. Lyon is a cultural anthropologist who specialises in the study of politics, law, kinship, farming and religion in Punjab, Pakistan, and has lived and worked in the country off and on since 1982 in both urban and rural locations for his research. Examining Political Kinship, in his paper Prof. Lyon explores the role of highly politicised kinship practices that have shaped the country from rural agricultural villages to the highest legislative and executive branches of government and the military. He looks at how ideal models of patrilineal affiliation define and guide expected patterns of factional loyalties and the ways that individuals and the households in which they exist try to manipulate these defined expectations to their own advantage. Understanding the patterns and logic of factional alliances at the level of the village can shed light on the factions that emerge at party political level and even at the international level.


At all levels of politics, Prof. Lyon argues that Pakistani gamesmanship and risk taking can be understood as an instance of dispute management shaped by the same underlying logic that drive and constrain local land disputes in rural areas. The conditions in which kinship has come to play such a prominent role are historical and economic. Successive waves of rule by elite minorities prevented the establishment of a genuine nation in which the ruled and the rulers might form a coherent unitary ideal collective. The gap between ruled and rulers alongside the absence of a coherent set of nation building tools, has come to be occupied by alternative networks of resource distribution and social replication. In Hocart’s classic analysis of caste and kinship, he argued that caste, kinship and kingship offered parallel and competing institutions of power that functioned to prevent the complete dominance of any institutionalised power network. Over the course of rotating elites in India and what later became Pakistan and Bangladesh, kinship has served to undermine and circumvent both the authority and the legitimacy of the various forms of state that have emerged in the Subcontinent. While focusing very firmly on what has come to be modern day Pakistan, this argument is pertinent for a broader examination of regional politics elsewhere in South Asia and part of the rationale is to develop a more sympathetic appreciation of how and why individuals might contribute to building up social institutions and structures that fundamentally weaken and possibly even damage state institutions.

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