A Case of Rampaging Elephants: the Politics of the Middle Classes in Small Town Pakistan

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This article draws on a year of ethnographic fieldwork with traders in a Pakistani agricultural commodity market. It analyses their business and wider networking strategies to show how they – as a segment of Pakistan’s middle classes – perceive and interact with the state in the process of accumulation. Ordered by custom, contract, and selective engagement with state functionaries who also engage them selectively, traders’ economic activity is inextricably bound up with political practices that defy democratic principles. Neither a concern with the public good nor programmatic politics is visible in what traders do; the state is viewed as an instrument of accumulation while itself appearing to have no project of its own separate from the local dominant classes; and collective organisation both substitutes for the regulatory state and staves off its attempts at enforcement. These trends further militate against viewing the middle classes as catalysts of democracy and have important implications for development strategies seeking to reform the state.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Contemporary Asia
Early online date18 Nov 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article draws on many of the themes discussed in the author’s unpublished doctoral thesis (Amirali ). The author would like to thank Barbara Harriss-White for her generous support during the doctorate and Aasim Sajjad Akhtar and Neil Howard for their comments on this article which helped improve it. Financial support by the Pakistan Higher Education Commission and Saint Catherine’s College, Oxford is also gratefully acknowledged.


  • Pakistan
  • middle classes
  • politics of accumulation
  • state
  • traders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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