I am a cultural anthropologist who specialises in the study of politics, law, kinship, farming and religion in Punjab, Pakistan. I have lived and worked in Pakistan off and on since 1982 in both urban and rural locations.
Throughout my research, I have sought to produce reliable empirical data and to analyse them using relevant and effective theory. I take it as axiomatic that complex phenomena require diverse methodological and theoretical approaches and so over the years I have used different research tools to address different parts of what I consider to be related problems. The parts of the problem are connected systemically in ways that can be surprising.
From the very beginning of my doctoral studies, I integrated computational tools with familiar ethnographic methods. I used computers in the field while conducting the classic type of village study in a rural farming community of northern Punjab, Pakistan. What was an oddity at the time, has become an ubiquitous feature of rural and urban Pakistan. Internet, email, the web, social media, mobile phones are pervasive throughout the country and so my ‘novelty’ has well and truly worn off. While in the field in the late 1990s, I began what I believe was the first anthropological field blog (though I pre-dated the use of the term blog). I did this from a URL that is now defunct, but it was included in a web collection of pioneering anthropological experiments in web dissemination at: http://era.anthropology.ac.uk/
Since those early days, I have continued to make use of new computing tools as they are developed but have tried hard never to fetishise the methods over the research questions. Fundamentally there are things that I want to know about the communities and the people with whom I work. As I develop more new questions, I try to keep an open mind about the best ways to produce reliable data that will allow me to satisfactorily answer those questions.
I was Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and Professor of Anthropology and Head of Department at Durham University between 2002 and 2018. In 2018, I accepted a position at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations at the Aga Khan University (International) in the United Kingdom. After 16 years at an excellent, publicly funded British university, it was a difficult decision to move, but I agree with the mission of the Aga Khan University to keep impact, relevance, quality and access at the forefront of everything I do and the opportunity to work in an institution with more of a shared focus on the Muslim world was too tempting to pass up. So as of 2018, I am Professor of Anthropology and Head of Educational Programmes at the ISMC-AKU.
President-elect of the Society for Anthropological Sciences
Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Treasurer of the Pakistan Studies Group
Member of the American Anthropological Association