Drawing the line: Bonds and bounds of civility in a Christian basti of Karachi
382 - 408 p.
coexistence, Karachi, Pakistan, political violence, urban poor
What do situations of chronic violence and resulting polarizations do to civility, and especially to its more horizontal forms? Using an account of everyday pluralism in an impoverished Christian neighbourhood of Karachi, this article addresses this question by examining how marginalized groups of that embattled city have been cobbling together forms of coexistence in the midst of ethnic and sectarian conflicts. Focusing in particular on the moral career of a local strongman, the practical and ethical dilemmas encountered by populations surviving at the margins of the city are considered, as they try to engage with others while struggling with the often violent economy of scarcity that structures their experience and vulnerability. In doing so, this article makes a case for a conceptualization of civility as a matter of building bonds as much as setting certain limits, in relation to identity and violence in particular. Civility, here, does not amount either to the preservation of peaceful coexistence or to the orderly reproduction of society. It thrives on various forms of connections and multiplicities, contesting hegemonic discourses on difference; instead of being external to violence, it operates within a world of violent possibilities, to which it aims to put some bounds.