Life Beyond Waste
Work and Infrastructure in Urban Pakistan
Waqas H. Butt



IN OCTOBER 2017, I spoke on the phone to Rameez, who is a sanitation worker employed by the municipality in Lahore. I asked him about the neighborhood and home where the family lives, while he casually told me about upcoming plans for his eldest son’s wedding. Before hanging up, we agreed to meet. A few days later, in the early afternoon, I saw him standing outside the railway ticketing booth that has been converted into a field office for the Solid Waste Management Department. Outside the office, a garbage compactor was parked, awaiting instructions, while a dozen or so sanitation workers were streaming out after having their attendance taken. Inside, the dāroghah (sanitary supervisor) and a couple of workers still lounged about after their shift had ended—I waved and gave them my salaam. After greeting them, I returned to Rameez, who was holding a carton of mangled wood pieces. Though his responsibilities as a municipal sanitation worker are predominantly focused on sweeping and collecting waste materials from public spaces, for which he is paid a wage, Rameez also takes away waste materials from households, for which he gets paid a minimal service fee and keeps some materials that he will deposit at a nearby junkyard and eventually cash in for money (Fig. 0.1). This time, Rameez explained, he was taking the wood pieces home where they would be used for cooking purposes when gas supplies drop.

FIGURE 0.1. Municipal handcart containing waste. Note, in front of image, netted bag hanging, where potentially valuable waste is temporarily stored. Source: Author

We then sat in one of the many qingqi rickshaws that run dedicated routes between where Rameez lives and where he works. We passed by areas like Quaid-e-Azam Industrial Estate and Township before entering working-class settlements situated on Lahore’s southwestern periphery. For the past decade or so, Rameez, along with his immediate family, has resided in one such settlement named Bāgṛīān̲ (see Map 0.2). In the elapsing two years, the locality’s main road had been incrementally built up, with greater commercial activity, and it is now considerably more pakkā,1 though still uncomfortably uneven from a spattering of potholes. We eventually reached the galī (alley) that leads to Rameez’s mohallā (neighborhood). In 2015 the alley was made of dirt and rocks. It, too, had been flattened and became somewhat more paved. Houses stand mostly one next to the other, though one or two empty plots of land are sandwiched between them, while agricultural fields growing animal fodder stand just beyond these houses. Though residents of Bāgṛīān̲ perform all kinds of work across Lahore, many municipal workers I came to know reside here and in another nearby area known as Green Town—where Rameez previously resided with his natal family after they migrated to Lahore from more agrarian areas of Punjab.

MAP 0.1. Map of Pakistan

It is not just the locality of Bāgṛīān̲ that has changed during this time; so has the home in which Rameez and his family reside. The front gate has been made more robust. The area just inside the gate, previously used as a kitchen, now has a rickshaw parked there. Beyond another entryway, a compact kitchen has been built, and the two rooms on the first floor have filled out with electronics and furniture. An upper portion, which was under construction at the time of my visit, has an open balcony, with a screen in the floor through which light filters to illuminate the seating area below. As the home has no windows, Rameez told me how the family relishes moments when the first floor gets bathed in sunlight. As Rameez pointed out other incremental changes, an earlier conversation we had in May 2014 flashes through my mind: we discussed household finances, for which Rameez uses the English word “circuit,” when he turned to me and said, “Butt Sahb, in Punjabi, it is said, ‘A home should be one’s own, even if it’s a straw hut (ghar āpṇā hove, bhaven kakhān̲ dī kullī hove).’

MAP 0.2. Map of Lahore

Indeed, homes were constant matters of concern for waste workers and their kin. Residing in a jhuggīān̲ (huts) settlement located along Multan Road, just before Thokar Niaz Baig, Manzoor and his kin, for the past several decades, have been taking away and collecting waste materials from a couple hundred households in two different localities across Lahore. Though also receiving a service fee like Rameez, most of the income generated out of their toil comes from those materials that can be separated and sold forward to junkyard owners and intermediaries who supply industrial and manufacturing units across Pakistan with these materials for production purposes. In order to do so, potentially valuable waste materials are brought back to the jhuggīān̲ settlement where Manzoor and his family reside (see Fig. 0.2). Importantly, mostly male kin collect waste from localities under Manzoor’s control, though female kin also at times engage in that labor, while much of the work of sorting and dissembling done within the home is performed by female kin, though here too male daily laborers are at times brought in. For several decades now, like many other informal workers, Manzoor and his extended kin network have utilized this form of work to generate a relatively stable source of income.

During this same time, however, cycles of dispossession and resettlement have rendered their settlement precarious and uncertain. Explaining why their homes have been subject to repeated and violent acts of destruction, another waste worker who resided in a jhuggī was prone to say, “These jhuggīān̲ might be garbage for housing societies, but for us it is a home.” Since we first met in 2014, Manzoor and his immediate family have been forced to shift their homes at least three times. In 2017, they had just been settled in a locality (Jatt Chowk) adjacent to where we had met previously in 2014, after a housing society near their previous settlement had made a complaint to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) that then cleared their jhuggī, as well as that of many others. The area where he came to reside has just recently been settled, with a spattering of built homes and a few other jhuggīān̲. This time, the jhuggī was placed on a plot of land owned by someone else that shared a wall with a nearby shop. Upon entering, I noted quilts hanging to dry on the brick wall and asked Manzoor about them. They were ralli quilts they had acquired many years ago, he told me (see Fig. 0.3). Having been removed only a couple of months ago, I was surprised by how quickly the jhuggī, inside and out, had been rebuilt, so the lives of Manzoor and his kin could go on—its wooden structure had been secured; beds, storage bins, appliances, and any number of other items were protected by its roof remade from second-hand materials; and donkeys, carts, and motorbikes used for all kinds of purposes were arranged against the wall of the neighboring shop.

FIGURE 0.2. Settlement of jhuggīān̲ (huts) in Lahore where some waste workers reside. Source: Author.

FIGURE 0.3. Quilts drying inside a jhuggī. Source: Author.

As their work involves collecting, transporting, and sorting waste materials, the lives and homes of Rameez, Manzoor, and any number of others have been undeniably shaped by a world increasingly saturated by waste. Yet, it is not just these lives and homes that have been shaped by such a world, so have the lives found in those aforementioned housing societies populated by Lahore’s ascendant middle and upper classes. These middle- and upper-class households consume commodities of all kinds that then generate waste materials that must be disposed of—a form of work or labor performed by those like Rameez and Manzoor across urban Pakistan. Indeed, this act of disposal is essential not only to maintaining the cleanliness but also to reproducing the status of such households and the lives contained within them. In that sense, waste work holds together lives and worlds across Lahore’s unevenly urbanizing landscape. As an expansive social and political relationship, it is a form of work that connects, with each other, any number of lives across Pakistan, ones that have arisen in a world awash with waste.

The central concern of this book is that particular form of work or labor—waste work—that comprises differentiated kinds of effort exercised on a world in which waste materials have proliferated through the consumption of disposable commodities taking place on a mass scale.2 This form of work has been organized at a similarly collective scale, such that waste materials are taken away on a regular basis from certain spaces, whether households, shops, or plazas, and made present elsewhere and transformed into something else, whether through containers, dumping grounds, landfills or junkyards, warehouses, or industrial units. For this reason, waste work constitutes an infrastructure aimed at reproducing forms of life in Lahore and beyond that have been organized along the lines of caste, class, and religion. Moreover, as an infrastructure, it is embedded in a complex field of social and political relationships, ones that extend from and connect the workings of the bureaucratic state and informal economies to the uneven trajectory of urbanization across the country. Approaching waste work from this perspective—as an infrastructure materializing wider transformations of life—a series of questions appears before us: What set of processes, both past and ongoing, have converged around waste materials and work? How does this form of work, organized as an infrastructure, move and transform waste materials, while concurrently stitching together individual and collective life across urban Pakistan? And what forms of life are reproduced through these variegated and distinct processes?

Caste, Class, Religion

Pakistan was founded as a nation-state for the Muslim minority of the Indian subcontinent. After its creation, this Muslim minority became Pakistan’s majority, while non-Muslims (Christians, Hindus, and others) became the new country’s religious minorities. Along with Bengal, the partitioning of the Punjab saw Hindus and Sikhs depart those areas that became part of Pakistan for India, while Muslims left those areas of the Punjab (as well as other regions of the subcontinent) that became part of India for Pakistan. Despite these geographic and demographic reworkings, Muslim nationalism, with its unifying imaginings of community, that took shape in British India and sustained the demand for Pakistan has had varying degrees of success in encompassing the ethnic, linguistic, caste, and sectarian identities of Muslim groups across Pakistan.3 The question then becomes, How has the project of the Pakistani state, animated as it has been by the contested hegemony of Muslim nationalism,4 shaped forms of life, especially along the lines of caste, class, and religion, in a city like Lahore as urbanization has unfolded? This book responds to such a query by delineating those forms of life as they have been organized and transformed across Pakistan over the past several decades.

Many of the waste workers with whom I conducted fieldwork had some connection to the region situated in the Bari Doab, between the rivers Ravi and Sutlej, that is known as Maajha Punjab. Forms of life in this region have historically been built upon and shifted alongside caste-based relations of work, exchange, settlement, and marriage in which both low- or noncaste groups and those of upper-caste backgrounds have been embedded. As many have noted (Ali 1988; Harding 2008; Barrier 1967), those caste groups who were considered “agriculturalists,” either because they owned lands or were seen to be “cultivators” or “agriculturalists” by the colonial state, have been dominant across both agrarian and urban settings in the Punjab, while low- or noncaste groups have fallen into a number of designations as “menials” or kammis (village servants) that have had varying and distinct connections to agrarian labor.5 Relatedly, prior to Partition, castes, such as Khatris, Aroras, and Banias who were predominantly Hindu, were prominent actors in urban centers and commercial activity across the Punjab, becoming connected to the agrarian economy through indebtedness. As I explain in greater detail in chapter 1, many of these low- or noncaste groups, especially those who were directly involved in agriculture, were embedded in a complex set of relations with “cultivators” or “agriculturalists” that involved work, exchange, land, settlement, and marriage, and would be recruited by municipal government as “sweepers.”

Caste-based relations in the Punjab were not just a division of labor; they were also a division of laborers (Ambedkar 2014). An assumption existed across Punjab’s agrarian landscapes that certain kinds of persons were disposed to perform certain kinds of work. The status of land-owning groups presumed to be from upper-caste backgrounds was premised upon a connection between landedness and cultivation, which positioned these groups as a landed peasantry valorized and protected by colonial and postcolonial regimes. Their positioning, at once material and ideological, was in contrast to the status of low- or noncaste groups, which was derived from a lack of landownership and performing other kinds of noncultivating (or “services”) work, even if they did engage in cultivation as nonlandowners. As limitations existed to undoing such hierarchical relations that could then shift the status of persons from distinct caste backgrounds, conversion to Sikhism, Christianity, or Islam, as well as the emergence of reform movements like the Arya Samaj, attempted to undo caste hierarchies by repositioning individuals from these caste groups within another social category (i.e., Muslim or Sikh) or reworking categories themselves (i.e., Hindu), which is why conversion or reform was accompanied by the taking on of different names. For instance, Chūṛās (noncaste Hindus) that converted to Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism came to be known as, respectively, Musalis, Masihis, and Mazhabi Sikhs, while others became adherents of Balmiki/Valimiki sects (taking on that name) or entered “upliftment” projects of Hindu reform movements.

Concurrently, these forms of life have shifted through repeated and prominent interventions by successive colonial and postcolonial regimes. Accompanying the growth of the colonial state and its techno-legal apparatus following the Rebellion of 1857 and direct Crown rule a year later, revenue and land settlement in the Punjab, as well much of British India, sought to make the agrarian economy more productive and rational, such that revenue could be extracted more efficiently. This intervention subsequently had the effect of stabilizing what was then understood to be its social structure, especially with regards to the “customs,” “rights,” “obligations,” and “services” enjoyed by the various groups, especially the “tribes” and “castes” that populated Punjab’s agrarian landscape.

Also commencing in 1881 and continuing until the final decades of British rule, a large-scale system of canals was constructed in central and western Punjab. This system of canals, as well as the colonies that accompanied them, were built on tracts of land situated between Punjab’s primary rivers. Not receiving water, these lands had gone uncultivated, and they were often described as barren, being referred to as “wastelands” throughout this period (Ali 1988; Fox 1985; Gilmartin 2020; see also Gidwani 2008, 93–113). Not only would land grants be given to those who remained loyal during the Rebellion of 1857 and were designated “agriculturalists,” the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1900 prevented those belonging to “nonagricultural tribes” from acquiring property rights,6 just as other “agriculturalists” were taken from more densely populated eastern parts of the Punjab and settled, along with “nomadic” populations, in those areas opened by land and revenue settlement, canal colonization, and eventually, other infrastructures like the railways. These “agriculturalists” were oftentimes accompanied by low- or noncaste groups who were landless laborers, considered “nonagriculturalists,” and who worked under a variety of “customary” relations with “agriculturalists” (see Ali 1988; Harding 2008; Barrier 1967). Many of these interventions by the colonial state at once stabilized caste-based relations surrounding work, settlement, and exchange, just as they pushed landless agrarian labor into wage labor, and certain low- or noncaste groups, who were already considered “menials” or “artisans,” became involved in artisanal and other kinds of trades. Urbanization throughout this period also provided opportunities for work and settlement in cities like Lahore, as well other urban centers across the Punjab and North India.

Following the formation of Pakistan, those groups considered “agriculturalist” and seen to be of upper-caste backgrounds have been able to reproduce their position across generations, especially by utilizing their control over and access to land in the Punjabi countryside to gain access to other sources of power, wealth, and status, whether through patron-client relationships, political parties, industrial development, informal markets, urban settlement, education, and/or employment. On the other hand, those who would be considered of low- or noncaste, or “nonagriculturalists,” have historically performed various kinds of work and labor in the countryside but lacked control over and ownership of land. While many have acquired land and experienced upward mobility, access to those same sources of power, wealth, and status enjoyed by upper-caste groups considered “agriculturalists” has been closed off to or severely limited to low- or noncaste groups considered “nonagriculturalists,” especially waste workers like those with whom I conducted fieldwork. Just as the hierarchies characteristic of caste-based relations in Punjab have diminished or been undone over the years, other kinds of relations and forms of life have emerged in urban centers across Pakistan that draw upon these historical inequalities and interdependencies.

Caste as a social category has intersected with and at times, been eclipsed by other categories, specifically religion and class, within social and political life. As a putatively egalitarian religion, Islam was presumed to not recognize arbitrary distinctions and the ascriptive status characteristic of caste, while other secularized and egalitarian discourses have charted out a liberal framework for caste equality.7 When caste practices such as prohibitions against touch and commensality erupt into public life, they are deemed illegitimate, as they are viewed to be contravening both egalitarian ideals within Islamic traditions and liberal models of equal citizenship. Moreover, because of large-scale conversions to Christianity and the hegemony of Muslim nationalism, Christianity as a minority religion (similar to Hinduism) rather than caste has become the historical basis for social and political identity among Christians in Pakistan, which at times has made Christian status synonymous with being low- or noncaste (Walbridge 2003).8 Additionally, as Christians have faced violence after accusations of blasphemy, greater emphasis has been placed on Christians as a religious minority, especially in light of a global human rights discourse on religious freedom and persecution. As religion has become a prominent marker for one’s social and political identity in Pakistan, renewed associations between religion and caste have been created as social life has been reorganized across the country, which I explore in chapter 4.

Along with religion, another point of convergence has been between caste and class, specifically the dominant role played by ashrāf groups among Muslims across the Indian subcontinent, or what some have recently described as “ashraafiya hegemony.”9 The term ashrāf10 was used by the colonial apparatus as a category for conducting censuses and ethnographic description, where it would reference higher status patrilineal descent groups among Muslims, akin to twice-born caste Hindus, but with the added quality of having presumed “foreign” ancestry, whether descent was reckoned through presumed Arab, Afghan, Persian, or Central Asian lineages.11 On the other hand, ajlāf12 referred to those who belong to groups that could not claim such “noble” descent and ancestry and engaged in occupations similar to ones described earlier for low- or noncaste groups—on both accounts (i.e., descent and labor), ajlāf groups being associated with Hindus of “lower” caste background. The distinction between ashrāf and ajlāf became critical to the ways in which the colonial state negotiated social, legal, and political relationships with Muslim groups, while ashrāf elites, as a privileged class of Muslims, sought to legitimize themselves as the representatives of Muslims as a unified community in British India.13

Additionally, the cultural and political hegemony that Urdu language and Urdu-speaking populations attained in the early years of Pakistan’s independence tended to be inflected by the higher status accorded to ashraafiya, especially ideals of respectability (sharāfat) attached to the inheritances from Mughal courts of manners, dress, literature, aesthetic norms, and Islamic ethical traditions (akhlāq). Not only would those considered or claiming the status of being ashrāf come to constitute a powerful component of Pakistan’s class formation,14 kinship among Punjabi Muslims tended to incorporate status distinctions between ashrāf and ajlāf, not to mention the hegemony the ashraafiya and Urdu language enjoyed among urban elites in Punjab. The status of ashrāf groups, as well as higher-status ajlāf ones, across Punjab, as well as Sindh,15 was implicated in, though distinct from, the control of land and differentiated forms of work and labor.16

Such distinctions—ashrāf and ajlāf, “agriculturalist” and “nonagriculturalists”—have been central to forms of life in Punjab and across Pakistan because they are points of convergence between caste and class: they index status attributions arising from differing relationships that groups had to state institutions and the ownership of and control over land, the kinds of work and labor those relationships entailed, and the ensuing accumulation of power, wealth, and status (i.e., forms of capital). Yet, even in the most contemporary accounts, class as a category of analysis has tended to eclipse caste when scrutinizing the country’s sociopolitical landscape,17 just as caste has been increasingly recognized to have significance in organizing social, economic, and political life across Pakistan’s history.18 The question then becomes how have such categories—caste, class, religion—converged in a city like Lahore and what does that reveal about Pakistan’s social and political landscape.

In Lahore, as Ammara Maqsood (2017) described in her recent monograph, an older middle class that had coalesced in the city under the colonial regime expanded in the immediate postcolonial moment by virtue of their ownership of land, access to education, and state employment, while an emergent middle class has arisen since the 1980s, migrating from smaller towns in the Punjab or residing in older parts of the city and finding employment in “significant [numbers] in mid-level positions in the private sector or run[ning] small businesses” (2017, 7). Both sections of Lahore’s middle classes are drawn heavily from what have been considered ashrāf groups, as well as higher status ajlāf ones, and many of whom have historically controlled land in the countryside and/or maintained access to sources of power and status in terms of education, the bureaucracy, and employment. Even though caste is not a category explored in Maqsood’s account, we can see how the convergence of caste, class, and religion has shaped the texture of urbanization across the city of Lahore. The final two chapters of this book extend these insights by analyzing the set of relations—affective, spatial, material—that have sutured together Lahore’s urbanizing landscapes, while other chapters examine how such categories and relations are also embedded in the workings of the bureaucratic state and its techno-legal apparatus and informalized relations of work and exchange organized around commodity production and consumption. The forms of life we see being reproduced in a transformed state across Pakistan arise from how deeply historical inequalities and interdependencies have been woven into the fibrous relations assembling and sustaining social and political life across the country.

Forms of Life

As a way of proceeding, let me pose a pressing set of questions, ones that will be unpacked across the pages of this book and returned explicitly to in the Coda: How do particular forms of life emerge entangled with the worlds of waste in contemporary Pakistan? What historical processes are implicated in and materialized through this convergence of waste and life? What are the stakes—intellectual, political, ethical—of accounting for waste and life together? And how should these stakes imbue our narration of the lives and worlds of those who toil with waste materials? Not only are these questions of significance on their own terms, but they have also been at the forefront of surging interest in waste among scholarly and popular audiences.

Recent accounts have foregrounded transformations in capitalism, labor, and ecologies to identify the forces—political, economic, social—that inhere within contemporary worlds of waste across any number of settings.19 In a fascinating and detailed account of Brazilian catadores (“scavengers”) who return to work at Jardin Gramacho garbage dump in Brazil, Kathleen Millar utilizes “forms of living” to reference “both livelihood and way of life,” such that we can delineate “everyday efforts to construct the good” as well as “to the ways that different materials, relations, and practices in economic life take shape” (Millar 2018, 11–14, emphasis in original). Although I share many of these concerns, especially how to speak about waste work and waste workers jointly without falling into the trope of waste-as-abjection, such accounts tend to limit forms of life to specific relationships to waste materials organized around economic, ecological, or moral concerns. Moreover, when narrativizing those forms of life as they have become attached to the worlds of waste, certain assumptions are made about what processes or events, whether past or ongoing, take on significance, while treating these lives and worlds as if they are transparent in nature, simply appearing before us as the materialization of world-historical forces (e.g., capitalist exploitation or anthropogenic climate change). In fact, minimal attention is given to exploring such questions as the historical identities upon which these forms of living have come to depend, the extensive nature of life-making projects and historical processes implicated in waste infrastructures, or the intimate relationship between waste work and the reproduction of life. Put slightly differently, such approaches are apt to move too hastily between what is deemed structure and what is deemed an (quasi-) event, as well as why, and in what particular ways, such events are actualized in some lives and not others (see Das 2015, 16). Then, we must account for both—forms of life and worlds of waste—without subsuming either to a larger set of structural relations, processes, or transformations, thereby not severing them from lives as they are actually lived.

In his rendering of “form-of-life,”20 Giorgio Agamben draws out the implications and risks to our notions of life if we sever life as lived from its forms: “A life that cannot be separate from its form is a life for which what is at stake in its way of living is living itself” (2000, 4). He goes onto to clarify, “[This formulation] defines a life—human life—in which the single ways, acts, and processes are never simply facts but always and above possibilities of life, always and above all power (Agamben 2000, 4, emphasis in original). Not only does this approach remain attentive to the possibilities inherent within life, in its myriad forms, that are in excess of the sanctioned order and dispensation of things and persons,21 but it also establishes enduring connections between life itself (i.e., ones that are often rendered as biological or natural) and forms of life (i.e., ones that are often rendered as social). Relatedly, Veena Das (1998) has highlighted the fact that forms of life are, on the one hand, organized along horizontal lines of differences, where agreements embedded in institutions like marriage, property, or labor fashion the shape any particular life might take within a society. On the other hand, such forms, she argues, are also operating orthogonally with vertical lines of differences in life itself, where the parameters of the human are contested and made discernible. Drawing on these insights, my own utilization of forms of life is a way of illustrating that much more is at stake in these lives and worlds than waste materials themselves, how they are worked with and transformed through labor and techno-infrastructural entities, or even perhaps the drudgery and precarity that comes with toiling away in those infrastructures. It becomes a technique for foregrounding the subtle shifts in and repeated contestations taking place over life when the particular forms of life that have emerged in the worlds of waste are traced out across urban Pakistan.

What counts as a life, especially a human one, was a point of contestation among waste workers and many others. Waste workers were apt to describe their treatment as akin to what is meted out to machinery or animals (jānwar), which can be exploited without much concern for their well-being; at other times, they chalked up their everyday experiences of discrimination and disrespect to being viewed as not or less-than-human by a host of others; or they emphasized how they demonstrated humanity when forgiving those who abuse them or cooperating rather competing with others from their birādarī (patrilineal descent group). These contestations over humanity—one’s own and that of others—are inseparable from extant social orders and hierarchies organized around caste-based relations and codes of conduct, while also being entrenched in contemporary worlds of waste in Pakistan and elsewhere. To account for these shifts in and contestations over life requires a more nuanced and expansive notion of life—and I would add, its reproduction—that does not sever links between life as lived and the forms of life. So, the task of accounting for life and waste in the contemporary world demands a patience when tracing the contours of lives as they are actually lived in myriad forms, being embedded in multiple life-making projects unfolding across discrete scales of activity.

This book maintains that there are intellectual, political, and ethical stakes when we account for life and waste in the world today. As such, the account found in its pages remains attentive to any number of life-making projects and historical processes—both of which operate at distinct spatiotemporal scales—when narrativizing forms of life that emerged within the worlds of waste in urban Pakistan. The forms of life organized around caste-based relations of concern to me are not simply part of some past form to be considered; rather, this book argues that those forms, and the identities and relations upon which they were built, have organized and canalized many of the distributive processes through which capitalism, urbanization, ecologies, and the worlds of waste materialize themselves in Pakistan today. Yet, the book keeps open spaces for possibilities, in which forms of life emerge in ways that cannot be reduced to reified forces (i.e., capitalist production and urbanization), categories (i.e., caste and class), or divisions (i.e., the natural and the social). Across its lines the book traces any number of historical processes to discern the possibilities as they actualize themselves within these forms of life, especially for those whose lives and livelihoods have come to be ensnared within this world of waste. Let me now turn to unpack how waste infrastructures have sustained such lives and worlds, and how they come to be reproduced through and beyond these infrastructures.

Infrastructures between Disposality and Circulation

Waste is usually conceptualized as an entity that has been exhausted, is lacking, deformed, or reduced in its usefulness or worth. Such conceptualizations, however insightful, tend to disentangle waste as a material and conceptual entity from the materialities, histories, and knowledges that constitute it. Though the term waste, not to mention others such as infrastructure, were largely absent from the colonial lexicon, with most of the concern being with dirt, rubbish, filth, stagnant water, and cesspools,22 the colonial moment was a formative one for waste infrastructures. It was a moment in which a regime of colonial sanitation and public health intersected with a central category of governance—the public—to put into place infrastructures of urban life. As I demonstrate in the first chapter, not only did distinctions between public and private reorganize spatial concepts and practices across Lahore’s landscape, but also related notions of custom and contract sought to incorporate relations of work and exchange surrounding different materialities into the techno-legal apparatus of the bureaucratic state, such that caste-based relations and codes of conduct were incorporated into urban infrastructures. Moreover, the elementary act of disposal, in which the public is to be protected by the bureaucratic state from certain dangers, risks, and harms attached to waste materials, has been and continues to be formative in shaping forms of life as they have emerged within worlds of waste, both in Pakistan and globally.

In urban centers across the world today, waste materials have been proliferating from the consumption of disposal commodities occurring at a mass scale. Increasing levels of consumption and waste generation are intertwined as disposable commodities, being made from materials easily used and discarded (e.g., single-use plastics), are now produced and consumed at scales and frequencies with no historical precedent. As such, disposability refers as much to the material qualities and amount of things that comprise life across the world today as it does to specific kinds of social relations, in which the relation between people and things facilitates value being realized from the consumption and discarding of commodities at unprecedently rapid rates. In other words, disposability is a pervasive ideology that crosscuts numerous social, political, and economic relations structuring contemporary life. Infrastructures accompanying disposability23 unsurprisingly approach waste as mass waste, with its anonymizing, abstracting, and generalizing character—something that aligns with articulations of the public (Chalfin 2014, 2017; Hird et al. 2014). Imbuing waste as a material and conceptual entity, disposability not only shapes the kinds of work surrounding waste materials but also permeates the technical, infrastructural, and institutional entities assembled around those materials. As the first two chapters make clear, disposability has been elementary to how the bureaucratic state and its techno-legal apparatus has approached waste as an object of governance and management, as well as the labor and techno-infrastructural entities organized around such an object.

A large mass of discarded materials—what were previously commodities to be consumed—will be remade into commodities to be consumed yet once again. Much of the work performed in spaces such as streets, junkyards, warehouses, and manufacturing units transforms these materials by remaking them, such that they can be brought back into circulation. That work or labor would be considered part of the 73.3 percent of nonagricultural labor in Pakistan that is employed informally (International Labor Organization 2018), while the diverse activities—categorizing, dismantling, weighing, buying, selling—taking place within them would be a component of the 30–35 percent of economic output, as measured through gross domestic product, produced in the informal economy (see Shehryar 2014). The forms of work and exchange described throughout this book are part of Pakistan’s changing political economy, which has been described by S. Akbar Zaidi as being marked by the informalization of “relations of production and exchange” (2014: 52). The informalization of livelihoods, especially of “surplus populations,” have become increasingly and precariously tied to working with the material excess (i.e., waste) of contemporary capitalism in Pakistan.

The proliferation of disposable commodities and waste materials has created situations in which individuals and groups have found sources of livelihood through the recovery and sale of potentially valuable discarded materials, something accompanied by informalized relations of work and exchange. As I show in chapters 3 and 5, these relations of work and exchange have been organized to provision waste materials as resources for commodity production, even if those who perform this work are excluded from and enjoy an autonomy within the labor process while coming to be settled on the Lahore’s urbanizing peripheries. Although waste workers, junkyard owners, intermediaries, and many others are “salvaging” materials for capitalist accumulation happening elsewhere (Tsing 2015), informal economies must be understood as internally differentiated in ways that enable a variety of actors in Lahore’s waste infrastructures to access these materials and work, such that they materialize value out of them, maintain a source of livelihood, and, ultimately, reproduce their own life and that of others (see Sanyal 2007). These livelihoods are thus embedded in infrastructures of circulation, in which waste materials, commodities, and money are kept in motion at multiple, intersecting spatiotemporal scales. Here, too, waste work is constituted into an infrastructure of urban life, in which materials, work, and related techno-infrastructural entities are meant to facilitate circulation.24 The discussion of informality is meant to demonstrate how infrastructures of circulation enact a constitutive connection between the uneven forms of life that have emerged across urban Pakistan and the production and consumption of disposable commodities organized at a mass scale.

Waste infrastructures in Pakistan combine infrastructures of disposability and circulation around the particular materialities of waste materials. These infrastructures have grown to comprise differentiated kinds of work and labor and expansive techno-infrastructural entities, while also being organized in relation to the techno-legal apparatus of the bureaucratic state, networks of circulation, and processes of uneven urbanization.25 Institutions at the municipal level have been historically endowed with the power and authority to oversee, manage, and calibrate the movement of materialities of all kinds across Lahore as an administratively and geographically bounded entity.26 In exercising this power and authority, there have been investments, both financial and affective, in techno-infrastructural entities (piping, drains, streets, machinery, and equipment). These investments—when hinged, formally, to a bureaucratically organized workforce and functioning, informally, alongside other workers, intermediaries, and junkyard owners—will provision waste disposal and management as a public good or service. The movement of waste materials simultaneously happens within and beyond the parameters of the bureaucratic state, as informalized relations of work and exchange are just as constitutive of Pakistan’s waste infrastructures. This is why, as I have suggested previously (Butt 2020a), access to waste infrastructures, the materials that are disposed and circulated through them, and the goods or services they enable are differentiated across actors—from workers, supervisors, and managers to junkyard owners, intermediaries, and citizens.

It must also be kept in mind that waste work—a constitutive component of these infrastructures—removes waste materials from spaces like a household, shop, or industrial unit where they are produced, which concurrently makes those same materials present elsewhere in any other number of spaces across Lahore and beyond. So, on the one hand, infrastructures of disposability bring together municipal and informal workers, supervisors, containers, and any number of techno-infrastructural entities, such that waste materials can be taken away and deposited into other spaces (i.e., dumping grounds). On the other hand, infrastructures of circulation implicate many of these same figures, especially informal workers residing in jhuggīān̲ on the urban peripheries, but also bring into their spatial ambit the seemingly endless number of junkyards, warehouses, foundries, mills, and wholesale markets dotting Lahore’s unevenly urbanizing landscape and extending across many other regions of Pakistan. It is in these spaces that waste materials are further sorted, disassembled, and exchanged as they are transformed and remade into commodities. Combining disposability and circulation, waste infrastructures are composed of and enact a series of ordered and transformative relations among materials things, bodies, persons, spaces, and forms of work.27

Taking a labor-centered approach, this book draws attention to how waste infrastructures28 are constituted through and implicated in multiple intersecting, yet distinct processes that have unfolded in urban Pakistan over the past several decades. This approach, first, emphasizes how the labor of low- or noncaste groups in Pakistan has been mobilized by both state institutions and informal economies, thereby organizing urban landscapes in ways that reproduce historical inequalities and interdependencies. The livelihoods of waste workers and their kin, not to mention many others further along the value chains of waste, are attached to waste materials. This attachment of livelihoods and waste necessitates the constant flow of waste and money across any number of actors engaging in exchanges at multiple spatiotemporal scales. Second, it details how waste infrastructures are made to happen by coordinating considerable amounts of heterogenous effort—be that formalized, contractual labor, informalized work, and/or any other number of unremunerated acts—alongside many other materials things and techno-infrastructural entities. And last, it underscores the relational nature of waste materials and work, such that we can see the forces—political, social, economic—at play in organizing waste infrastructures, while also allowing us to remain attentive to the contingency of these convergences (see Simone 2004; Cowen 2020) and thus the unexpected possibilities and relationalities inhering within attendant forms of life. Taken together, this approach underscores that waste work does not simply dispose of or circulate waste materials. Rather, constituted as an infrastructure, this form of work is embedded in and emerges out of numerous processes, entangling any number of actors with their own intentions and life-making projects, while participating in reproducing life, in Lahore and beyond, at several interconnected scales.

Life Reproduced

One of the central claims of this book is that a particular form of work, waste work, is elementary to examining how a variegated set of processes have unfolded over the past several decades and shaped the forms of life that have emerged across urban Pakistan. Such a claim only holds weight if we appreciate what work as a category of action makes possible. Though differentiated by the kinds of effort exercised on the world, all forms of work or labor are situated within dispensations of social and political life, such that any particular instantiation of work or labor presupposes and entails historical conditions of working and living. As such, I approach work as a category of action central to the organization and reproduction of life itself.

In making such a claim about the centrality of waste work to the reproduction of life, I take my cue from transnational Marxist feminists who have foregrounded reproduction by drawing attention to the gendered nature of the labor process itself: certain kinds of work, usually those performed by gendered and racialized subjects, are fundamental to capital accumulation through the appropriation of unpaid work or energy, even if that work, energy, and those who exercised them were devalorized and were placed, only formally, outside the capital-labor relation29 (see Fortunati 1995; Murphy 2015; see also Bear et al. 2015; Bhattacharya 2017; Mies 1998; Moore 2017, 2018). What needs to be underscored at this point then is the fact that the reproduction of life, and its potential appropriation for accumulation, is the result of expansive distributive processes that bring into relation any number of material things, bodies, persons, spaces, and forms of work, or what I identified above as waste infrastructures. In other words, there are many processes operating and unfolding beyond these infrastructures, but they are brought into relation to one another as waste work is constituted into an infrastructure of urban life. So, in what ways are such infrastructures caught up in reproducing life?

Waste work has been bureaucratized and coordinated through institutions, infrastructures, and work regimes aimed at sustaining the collective life of cities, while simultaneously being organized around the dynamics of mass waste generation and the production of commodities under capitalist relations. This is how and why waste work has been constituted into an infrastructure of urban life. As such, the activities that go into disposing of and/or circulating waste materials are forms of social cooperation that make possible accumulation, just as they exist outside and at times demonstrate “antagonism” toward that accumulation (Weeks 2011; see also Weeks 2007). This is akin to what Anna Tsing has called “salvage accumulation” as “the process through which lead firms amass capital without controlling the conditions under which commodities are produced” (2015: 62–63). Yet, what Tsing and many others have foregrounded is the fact that those activities that reproduce life—whether that be care work, ecological conditions, biological matter, or metabolic life—exist prior to and are in excess of capitalist production and accumulation, even if the latter seek to appropriate those activities, energies, and relations required for reproducing life.30 The task then becomes to remain attentive to how processes of reproduction play themselves out in ways that are not circumscribed by the domains of the state and capital, which at once decenters the latter and recognizes their significance in shaping the former (i.e., reproducing life). This act of decentering not only opens up the worlds of those who work to reproduce themselves and their social relations through a particular kind of work but also foregrounds the reproduction of historical interdependencies and inequalities, upon which the state and capital depend but which operate beyond their purview.

Waste work is aimed at reproducing forms of life in Lahore that have been historically organized along the lines of caste, class, and religion. Noting the prominent Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar’s description of caste as “graded inequality,” Ajantha Subramanian (2019) has recently unpacked a “stratification of labor” to analyze how specific upper-caste groups have utilized technical forms of knowledge and labor (i.e., engineering) and the language of merit and academic achievement to reproduce and preserve their status in postcolonial India and beyond.31 Subramanian’s approach allows us to apprehend caste as “a form of capital” (Subramanian 2019, 15; see also Bourdieu 1986) in which things such as inherited privileges, academic qualifications, and many other sources of power, wealth, and status come together to reproduce historical inequalities and interdependences. In the present context, we have already seen how much of Lahore’s middle and upper classes are drawn heavily from higher-status Muslims groups who have historically had control over land in the countryside and/or maintained access to sources of power, wealth, and status—all of which are forms of capital. On the other hand, those from low- or noncaste backgrounds, who have been historically excluded from control over land and have entered this line of work as they migrated to and settled on Lahore’s urbanizing peripheries, have not had access to those same forms of capital availed to the city’s middle and upper classes. Approaching waste work as an infrastructure enables us to see how this particular form of work allows collective life in a city like Lahore to go on, while at the same time reproducing the system of graded inequality (i.e., caste-based relations) upon which waste work is premised.32

Waste work has been organized into an infrastructure of urban life, such that forms of life at multiple, convergent registers and scales come to be reproduced both in Lahore and across much of Pakistan. Just as this form of work, comprising all kinds of activities, relations, and practices, reproduces forms of life in a city like Lahore, it also facilitates the intergenerational trajectories of waste workers and their kin as they have strived to reproduce themselves within Lahore’s urbanizing landscape. The reproduction I describe is a distributed process that unfolds at the following registers and scales: (1) the reproduction of forms of life organized around caste-based relations in Pakistan, even if there has been an overt disavowal of caste by the Muslim nationalist project; (2) the reproduction of urban life, especially through the dependence of upper- and middle-class existence upon the stigmatizing toil of waste workers from low- or noncaste backgrounds; and (3) the reproduction of lives and livelihoods of waste workers, their kin, and many other actors further along the value chains of waste, all of whom discover creatively ordinary ways to generate incomes out of commodity detritus from across Lahore and Pakistan.

Scholars, activists, and many others have drawn attention to waste generation on unprecedented scales to alert us to changing configurations of waste and labor and the techno-infrastructural entities and imaginaries that are at once a symptom of and cure for the excesses of contemporary capitalism and urbanization. On the other hand, by foregrounding reproduction as its central analytic, this book traces how capitalism, urbanization, and their infrastructures in Pakistan build upon forms of life in which caste-based relations and identities have been foundational. As such, it argues that contemporary forms of living and working, whether in South Asia or elsewhere, depend upon the reproduction of historical inequalities and interdependencies, which tend to be obscured by the presentism of contemporary accounts of waste and capitalist urbanization. Being attentive to reproduction gives us insight into not only configurations of waste and labor under contemporary capitalism but also what forms of living and working are actually possible for those who inhabit urbanizing landscapes like Lahore across the world today.

Methods: Possibilities and Limits

A major challenge in writing this book has come from the difficulties that come with studying caste in Pakistan today. A consistent set of objections has been made by scholars, activists, and others, challenging the claim that caste exercises any significant force in Pakistan’s history, whether past or ongoing. Caste may have a sociological reality among Muslims across the Indian subcontinent, but other bases of identity, whether those be religion, class, ethnicity, language, or gender, are more pertinent when critically understanding the creation of Pakistan or its political and social trajectory since independence. Even when speaking about forms of association like birādarī or “tribe,” stress has generally been placed upon things like kinship or patronage, which are undeniably important when exercising political power (democratic or authoritarian) in Pakistan. Still others argue that caste does not have the same significance as it does in India as a nation-state with a Hindu majority. Not only is caste a constitutive component of Brahmanical traditions, but caste has also been recognized through a wide variety of legal categories and political techniques in the neighboring country. However, this ends up leading to a comparative approach, most prominently comparing a Sayyid dominance to a Brahmanical one, and these strategies end up reproducing the claim that caste either is not as powerful a force in Pakistan or operates differently than it does in India and under Brahmanical dominance. Whether as recognition or disavowal, such approaches fail to reconcile the fact that, in the words of Suraj Yengde, “caste as a social construct is a deceptive substance, known for its elemental capacity to digress from its primary motive of existence” (2019, 7). The erasure of caste in Pakistan across popular and academic discourses, as well as across a diverse set of political affiliations, results from an inability to interrogate the sociohistorical production of categories, whether they be of caste, nation, religion, class, or gender. Rather than comparing categories, we must trace how such categories are produced under specific sociohistorical conditions, which underlies the methodological approach to studying caste across the pages of this book.

The centrality of waste work in this book may give the impression that its treatment of caste is limited to what are seen as “traditional caste-based occupations.” Rather, the book identifies, on a methodological level, how caste is enmeshed in the operations of the bureaucratic state, informal economies, and uneven urbanization. This book approaches caste not as inhering in those who are presumed to be from low or noncaste backgrounds, as that would fall into the fallacy of “castelessness;” rather, it locates caste as a category that is crucial to organizing all kinds of relations—social, political, economic—that cuts across contemporary life in Pakistan.33 Moreover, the antiquated problem of whether Muslims across South Asia have caste gives way to an assessment of how caste actually operates in Pakistan (and potentially its diaspora) today. Reframing the problem in this way allows us to trace how caste endures, through its transformation, across many domains of social and political life, but with the hope of identifying the necessary work required to undo the historical inequalities and interdependencies that it has upheld.

Caste as a historical category does not exist in a vacuum. This book focuses on its interaction with class, and to a certain extent, religion, precisely because doing so allows us to make clear how access to sources of power, wealth, and status have reproduced caste-based relations, whether through the hegemony of ashrāf groups among Muslims across South Asia or through those with control over land in the Punjab. While ashraafiya hegemony is undeniable in Pakistan’s past and present, we must not remain blind to the regional (or diasporic) histories that imbue caste with social and political force. Moreover, the pervasiveness of caste cannot be fully grasped if it is disentangled from the study of gender and sexuality, especially the control over women’s bodies and sexuality. Such control can vary in its coerciveness, from kin-based marriage practices (e.g., endogamy) to sexualized forms of violence.34 We must remain sensitive to the endurance of caste through its intersection with class, gender, and sexuality in organizing contemporary life across South Asia and its diaspora.

Waste work emerges out of the gendering of the labor process. Not only are women involved at every stage of the process by which waste materials are disposed of and/or circulated, but the feminization of male workers also emerged repeatedly throughout my fieldwork. However, two major limitations of the research that provided the materials for this manuscript arise from a lack of access. First, my access to women, especially outside spaces of work, was notably limited. Part of this had to with the fact that I was often introduced to men by men, and, after entering domestic spaces, I remained in the position of a non-kin male, which limited my conversations with women and their openness to engage with a variety of topics. Aside from formalized interviews with female workers employed by the municipality and conversations with the wives of male informal workers, I rely heavily upon insights and narratives provided to me by men. Additionally, although waste workers from Pashtun backgrounds form a sizable component of Pakistan’s waste infrastructures, I chose to not conduct any fieldwork with them. This decision resulted from the fact that Pashtuns have become the site of surveillance by the Pakistani state, especially its military and intelligence agencies. Whenever I was introduced to a Pashtun waste worker or junkyard owner, I was met with suspicion and reticence. Thus, early on in my fieldwork, I decided to avoid interacting with Pashtuns active in this line of work, so as not to draw undue attention to an already vulnerable and surveilled community. It is undeniable that this limited access constrains the arguments unfolding across these pages. My only hope, however, is that readers take these limits and constraints not as marking an end point but rather as a point of departure for pushing my own materials and claims in ways I was unable to do myself.

Overview of the Book

The first chapter returns to a historical moment when infrastructures were being organized to govern urban life in colonial Lahore. This chapter examines how waste materials and work became a site of intervention for a colonial regime of sanitation, public health, and governance. It pays particularly close attention to how the category of the public, as it was embedded in the techno-legal apparatus of the bureaucratic state, connected spatialized practices surrounding different materialities (e.g., sewage, water, night soil, rubbish) with relations of work and exchange. Chapter 1 also traces out the position of the prominent Dalit group known as the Chūṛā that would be recruited as “sweepers” into municipal departments across the Punjab and North India, and how the caste-based relations in which they were embedded were appropriated and integrated, at least partially, into the bureaucratic state and its techno-legal apparatus through the category of the public. As such, this chapter makes clear how forms of life in Punjab have become embedded in infrastructures stretching across the urban landscape, and as the bureaucratic state has expanded and waste work has become further bureaucratized, such forms of life, and caste-based relations upon which they are built, continue to organize spaces, work, and life in Lahore and across much of urban Pakistan.

Chapter 2 examines the relationship that the bureaucratic state has had to waste materials, work, and infrastructures in contemporary Lahore. Since the 1980s, Lahore has been undergoing rapid urbanization, which has involved population growth, higher levels of consumption, and spatial and infrastructural expansion. The nature of democratic politics across Pakistan has also undergone a transformation, where “intermediary classes” have gained prominence through political parties, market and trader associations, and other organizational entities, which has been connected to the changing dynamics of patronage. This chapter details how, within such a context, waste workers have mobilized social and political relationships, both within and outside state institutions, to access waste materials and work. Second, it examines how the bureaucratic state, through the intermediary figure known as the dāroghah, provides waste disposal services to the public by exercising limited control over waste workers and contending with the politics of patronage within localities. This chapter argues that the bureaucratic state comes to occupy a managerial role in relation to urban infrastructures, which crosscuts distinctions such as public and private, state and society, and labor and management. Taken together, the first two chapters of this book make clear that categories and distinctions of the bureaucratic state and its techno-legal apparatus exercise an important force in organizing infrastructures of disposability, even if those infrastructures comprise activities, relations, and practices that exceed those categories and distinctions.

Chapter 3 transitions to infrastructures of circulation by trekking through spaces—jhuggīān̲, junkyards, warehouses, furnaces, manufacturing plants—where waste materials are worked with and exchanged, being procured and transformed into resources to be used in remaking commodities. This chapter engages discussions of informality within South Asia that have highlighted the contradictory situation faced by labor: for laborers excluded from formalized sectors of capitalist economies, relations of work and exchange have emerged to generate surpluses that are simultaneously directed at need and accumulation. The chapter examines the highly fragmented and differentiated processes through which surpluses are generated out of waste materials and work. Rather than discussing the exploitation of labor through wages, this chapter demonstrates how forms of exclusion, with their own kinds of remuneration, allow for surpluses generated to be simultaneously directed at meeting need by waste workers and small-scale kabāṛīān̲ (junkyard owners) and fostering accumulation by larger-scale kabāṛīān̲ and bīopārīān̲ (intermediaries). This chapter argues that informality undergirds more formalized sectors of capitalist economies, uneven urbanization across much of Pakistan, and the reproduction of historical inequalities and interdependencies.

Whereas previous chapters explored how waste work, constituted as an infrastructure of urban life, is embedded in social and political relationships stretching across the bureaucratic state and informalized economies, the following chapters mark a shift in the book, where waste materials, work, and infrastructures are situated within the trajectory of urbanization in Lahore and more broadly. Chapter four examines how waste work becomes a site for mediating collective life in urban Pakistan, in which intimacies across caste, class, and religious lines are constantly negotiated. Waste work separates waste materials from those who produce it (e.g., middle- and upper-class households), while at the same time attaching those same materials to those who either live or work in physical proximity to these materials or are presumed to be low- or noncaste by birth. This chapter thus situates waste work within distributive processes in Lahore, whereby waste materials are made absent for some, just as they are made present for others. It first examines the affective and material relationships formed between waste workers and households from which they collect waste, and then analyzes the ways in which others, who may share a world in common with waste workers, distance themselves from these materials and those persons presumed to do this work by birth. This chapter argues that the affective, material, and spatial relationships in which waste workers, kabāṛīān̲, bīopārīān̲, households, and many others are enmeshed create an uneven intimacy that is reflective of wider process of urbanization.

The final substantive chapter examines how waste workers and their kin have experienced shifts in work, settlement, and life as they have migrated to Lahore and reproduced themselves across generations. Low- or noncaste groups in Punjab have historically been landless labor, working under a variety of coercive relations with landowning groups from upper-caste backgrounds, engaging in different kinds of agrarian work and being settled on the land owned by others. This chapter demonstrates how forms of settlement and work have endured through transformation as waste workers have migrated to Lahore’s urbanizing peripheries, while indebtedness has been enfolded into the home as a site of social reproduction. Just as reproduction occurs at intergenerational and domestic scales, it unfolds also at the scale of workers’ bodies, where their lives and bodies are exhausted through laboring with waste materials. Delineating these spatiotemporal scales highlights how forms of life historically built upon caste-based relations are reproduced on Pakistan’s urbanizing peripheries.

Taking inspiration from recent characterizations of the Anthropocene “as the apotheosis of waste” (Hecht 2018), the coda emphasizes the significance that the theoretical framework of reproduction has for discussions of caste, waste, and life in the contemporary world. It returns to a key ethnographic moment in order to reflect upon the theoretical frameworks used to critically examine caste in Pakistan, in which caste is seen as enduring through its transformation and being a site of contestation. Next, the coda makes an argument for studying the forms of life that have emerged alongside and out of worlds of waste in the contemporary moment without flattening them to those processes, specifically an intensifying form of consumptive capitalism and anthropogenic climate change, that saturate our expectations of contemporary life. The reason for doing so, as this book has illustrated, has been to delineate what are the actual possibilities for reproducing life in a world consumed by waste in any numbers of forms.



1. Pakkā translates literally to “cooked,” and in many parts of South Asia, it refers to all kinds of structures (roads, houses, etc.) that are viewed as more stable. Their stability arises partly due to the materials themselves (e.g., bricks and concrete rather than wood and mud) as well as their legal status as being recognized by the state. For instance, pakkā houses are stable structures made of bricks (or cement and concrete) and located on land to which one enjoys legal claims of property. This is in contrast to kacchā homes that are less stable structures located on land to which one’s legal claims are absent or uncertain. Jhuggīān̲ discussed shortly would be considered kacchā houses.

2. A critical feature of contemporary life is the generation of waste as “mass waste,” which shapes practices of modern waste management, economies that have grown around them at a variety of scales, and uneven urbanization (see Reno 2015; see also Alexander and Reno 2012, Alexander and Reno 2014; Gregson et al. 2015; Gidwani 2015). Whereas this scholarship on contemporary transformations in waste materials and interventions surrounding them has been generative, this book remains attentive to the histories of labor, migration, and urbanization that shape waste work and infrastructures in a variety of settings, as well as the aggregation of urban infrastructures that has occurred over several decades.

3. This is what David Gilmartin (1998), in an important essay on historical narratives of Partition and the creation of Pakistan, has examined as the tensions between the unifying force of moral community, forged through Islam as a religious tradition that provided symbols around which Muslims mobilized in British India, and the diverse forms of belonging among Muslim groups, with their myriad loyalties and attachments formed along the lines of “tribe,” birādarī, class, region, and/or language (see also Jalal 1994)

4. In a discussion about Islam, Muslim history, and national culture among progressive and liberal intellectuals in the early years of Pakistan’s independence, Kamran Asdar Ali (2011) has drawn attention that these intellectuals were largely Urdu speaking from North India and shared an ashrāf background, which placed them in tension with the vast majority of Pakistan’s population with its own cultural and linguistic diversity. In a slightly different register, Naveeda Khan has emphasized how Pakistani nationalism remains an aspirational project, in which religious argument and disputes, whether in everyday life or the formalized domain of law, become “expressive of ongoing striving” (2012, 11). More recently, Mubbashir Rizvi has described how the national imaginary of the Pakistani state “evades particular regional, and ethnic identities in favor of Muslim universalism, even though the everyday life of Pakistanis is circumscribed by local ethnic, religious, and linguistic identities,” while qualifying that those tensions between the unity of Muslim nationalism and local identities is “least visible in Punjab, where the Pakistani state’s nationalist project is most hegemonic” (2019, 7). It is undeniable that the Punjab has benefited disproportionately from the centralization of state power, authoritarian rule, and uneven development in Pakistan. In spaces, whether geographic or intellectual, where the project of the Pakistani state and Muslim nationalism has attained hegemony, however, tensions remain unresolved, allowing for categories like nation, religion, and community to sustain social and political life in unexpected ways.

5. The most prominent of “agriculturalist” or “cultivators” in the Punjab have been Jatts, but there are also many others (Awaams, Arains, Bhattis, Cheema, Chaudhary, etc.) that have fallen within this designation. Sayyids (those who claim descent from the Prophet) and Khokars (of presumed Rajput lineage) also have been placed into the designation “agriculturalist” or “cultivator.” Among low- or noncaste groups, those directly involved in agriculture, and at times worked as cultivators, were carpenters (tarkhan), blacksmiths (lohar), oil pressers (teli), leatherworkers (chamar), sweepers (churha), and then, there were those who were not directly involved in agriculture or cultivation, such as barbers (nai), cobblers (mochi), bards (mirasi), weavers (julaha), goldsmiths (sunniara), potters (kumhiar), tailors (darzi), washerman (dhobi), butchers (qasai), water-carriers (bhisti, jhinwar, or mehra), and religious ascetics (faqir) (Gill 2019; Ahmad 1970; Wakil 1972; Alavi 1972; Eglar 2010).

6. For a more general discussion of designations of “caste” and “tribe” in the Punjab and the bureaucratic apparatus of colonial regime across British India, see Gilmartin (1988); Ali (1988); Barrier (1967); Cohn (1987); Fox (1985). These dynamics would shape not only agricultural policy and interventions in the Punjabi countryside but also political parties and social movements across the region’s rural and urban centers (Fox 1984; Grewal 2009; Kerr 1980; Malhotra 2002; Talbot 1988).

7. For instance, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in a famous and oft-quoted speech given to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947, charted out the following framework: “We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another” (Jinnah 1947, 546).

8. It should be underscored that Christianity has historically and continues to provide a critique of caste-based norms and codes of conduct by drawing on local idioms and religious ideas, thereby furnishing a “counternarrative” around such norms and codes of conduct, especially those related to purity (pāk) and unclean (na-pāk) (Singha 2015; see also Mosse 2012).

9. See Hussain (2020); Falahi (2020); For an account of the distinctions of ashrāf and ajlāf, see Ahmad (1967). Gyanendra Pandey (1984) examines similar tensions between Muslim elites and poorer weavers in one particular locality, specifically how those tensions were embedded in larger visions of moral community.

10. Platts’s A Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi, and English defines ashrāf as “Nobles, noblemen, grandees, persons of high extraction, gentlemen, gentlefolk; honourable men; [ . . . ] a class of cultivators who claim certain privileges;—adj. Well-born, of good family, noble; gentle, meek, mild; refined, courteous, urbane.” (1884, 57). Ashrāf is the plural of sharīf, which is defined as “Of high rank or dignity, exalted, eminent, honourable, noble, of good family, high-born; possessing glory or dignity; legitimate;—a title of honour of any descendant of the Prophet, as also of the rulers of Mecca; a prince, a chief or head (e.g. sharīf-ě-qaum, ‘chief or head of a tribe or caste’)…” (1884, 727).

11. The primary ashrāf groups were Sayyids (descendants of the Prophet Muhamad), Shaikhs (descendants from the companions of the Prophet and also of Arab origin), Mughals (descendants from Central Asians Turks), and Pathans.

12. Platts’s A Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi, and English defines ajlāf as “Base, vile, mean, or ignoble people; the rude, the vulgar; the lower orders” (1884, 24). Ajlāf is the plural of jalaf, which is defined as “Hard, severe; churlish; mean, base, despicable;—a churlish fellow; a miser” (1884, 387).

13. The ashraafiya itself designated a precolonial formation (see Lelyveld n.d.). Leadership among Indian Muslims, whether they supported the demand for Pakistan or positions of the Indian National Congress, were drawn heavily from the ashraafiya, while these same groups also gained prominence in diverse array of religious institutions and movements throughout the colonial period. The most prominent justification for retaining the power of the ashraafiya by the colonial British state came from Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan (see Falahi 2020, 2007).

14. The hegemonic status of such elites would nevertheless be contested following independence through public arenas (most prominently, print media and literary forms), regional claims of autonomy, linguistic conflict, and social and economic mobility (see Gilmartin 1998).

15. For an intersection of ashraafiya hegemony and Sindhi nationalism, literature, and progressive politics, see the discussion by Hussain (2019, 2020).

16. One important point to highlight is that, unlike ashrāf and ajlāf, the distinction between agriculturalist and nonagriculturalist does not rely as much upon claiming ancestry and tracing descent through foreign lineages. There are, of course, other caste designations that connect being of “higher status” with descent from Rajput lineages, as well as other groups viewed as pastoralists such as Gujjars.

17. In the highly influential work of the sociologist Hamza Alavi (1988), for instance, the Muslim salariat, consisting of “the urban educated classes who qualify for employment in the colonial state,” were dominant in the Muslim League and the “driving force” behind the Muslim nationalism and the demand for Pakistan, retained their status after independence because of their control over the civilian bureaucracy and access to education. Moreover, Alavi commences his fascinatingly detailed ethnographic account of Punjabi kinship by unequivocally claiming, “In the Muslim rural society of West Punjab . . . it is kinship system rather than caste which embodies the primordial ties which structure its social organization” (1972: 1; see also Ahmad 1970). More recent scholarship on Pakistan that has been influenced by the work of Hamza Alavi and others has paid so much attention to class as a category of analysis and a formalistic understanding of the modern nation-state that it has largely ignored or sidelined caste-based dynamics (Ahmad 1970; Akhtar 2018; Alavi 1972; Javid 2015; Martin 2015). A note exception to this work was Shahnaz Rouse’s (1988) account of agrarian transformations in the Punjab following the Green Revolution.

18. Though Frederick Barth (1960) applied theories of caste to his study of the Swat Pathan, more recent scholarship, however, has started to analyze the perverseness of caste in social life, as well as its relationship to politics in Pakistan’s history (Asif 2020; Gazdar 2007; Gazdar and Mallah 2012; Hussain 2019b; Javid and Martin 2020).

19. See Chalfin (2019); Chatterjee (2019); Corwin and Gidwani (2021); Doherty (2019); Fredericks (2018); Gandy (1994); Gidwani (2013); Gill (2009); Hecht (2018); Liboiron (2021); O’Hare (2019); Millar (2018); Resnick (2021); Solomon (2019); Stamatopoulou-Robbins (2019); Zhang (2020).

20. Agamben’s concern, here and elsewhere, is that because bare (or naked) life has become “the ultimate and opaque bearer of sovereignty” and “the dominant form of life everywhere,” we have found ourselves in a moment where our appreciation of life has become impoverished—the forms of life we see becoming hegemonic around us are unable to “coher[e] into a ‘form-of-life’” (Agamben 2000, 6).

21. This is part of what Agamben has traced as “a genealogical inquiry into the term ‘life.’” (Agamben 1999, 239). The purpose of this project is to foreground a philosophy of absolute immanence located within the writings of Western philosophers such as Spinoza, Nietzsche, Deleuze, and Foucault. Life—biological, contemplative, blessed—are to be pushed onto the same terrain for political philosophy, where epistemology has become indistinguishable from ontology. As a note, my own formulation is separate from discussions of emergent forms of life related to biomedicine, genetics, and other kinds of biopolitical intervention into our conceptions of life itself (see e.g., Fischer 2003; Petryna 2013; Rose 2009).

22. For instance, in a speech to district committees in 1875, the Sanitary Commissioner of the Punjab Annesley Castriot Charles de Renzy levied a harsh indictment against those forms of life that hindered “progress” in sanitation and public health in British India, in which he emphasized: “The cause may all be expressed in one word, namely, ‘dirt’! Dirt in the air, dirt in the soil, dirt in the water, dirt in the dwelling, dirt on the person, dirt in the clothes; and the remedy for excessive sickness consists simply in the removal of dirt.” “Proposed Address to District Committees Regarding Sanitary Matter.” No. 909, Lahore, November 5, 1875. From A. C. C. De Renzy, Sanitary Commissioner, Punjab, to Secretary to Government, Punjab, 959.

23. This is akin to what Rosalind Fredericks (2018) has called “governing-through-disposability” that describes changes in governance and urbanisms in Senegal over the course of several decades. Similarly, in Zsuzsa Gille’s (2007) work on transitioning regimes for waste in Hungary, such terms draw our attention to how changing notions of disposability and worth are not simply instantiated in material things like resources and commodities but are part of a shift in the grammar of government, the state, and capital (see also Doherty 2019; Zhang 2020; Resnick 2021). And, although disposability has been an alluring framework for understanding contemporary capitalism, infrastructures of disposability in fact build upon and participate in a longer biopolitical project of the modern state, ensuring and securing the health of the population, though in often deeply uneven ways (Foucault 1991, 2007; see also Hamlin 1998; Joyce 2003; Prakash 1999).

24. In a well-known review article, Brian Larkin has described infrastructures as “the architecture for circulation,” emphasizing that they “are the matter that enable the movement of other matter. [Infrastructures’] peculiar ontology lies in the fact that they are things and also the relation between things” (2013, 329; see also Star 1999). Historically, infrastructures of all kinds have been organized in ways that imbue them with distinct rationalities of rule, governance, and markets, making them into key sites for claims making by citizens, patron-client relations, economic exchanges, urbanisms, and shifts in socialist, liberal, and democratic politics (Ahmann 2019; Anand 2017; Barry 2013; Collier 2011; Coleman 2017; Larkin 2008; von Schniztler 2016). Similarly, infrastructures in Pakistan have been suffused with expectations of modernity, in which large-scale technological systems were attached to forms of government and state power, notions of civilizational progress and national development, and the possibilities of urban life (Khan 2006; Akhter 2015; Anwar 2015; Imran 2010; Mustafa 2013; Akhter et al. 2022).

25. Waste infrastructures can be seen as a sociotechnical assemblages comprising material things, bodies, persons, spaces, and forms of work. This assemblage book is akin to that which is described in the work of Jane Bennett: “Assemblages are ad hoc of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts. Assemblages are living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies confound them from within. . . . The effects generated by an assemblage are, rather, emergent properties, emergent in that their ability to make something happen . . . is distinct from the sum of the vital force of each materiality considered alone.” (2010, 23–24; see also Deleuze and Guattari 1987; Povinelli 2016, 51–54). Though sharing an interest in the materiality of things, the concept of assemblage thematizes the capacity of self-organizing processes, in which elements and relations that constitute such processes produce things (i.e., “events”) that are greater than these constitutive elements and relations. What is key about assemblages is the “concatenation of mediators,” whereby elements are connected by coming into relation to one another and subsequently, through which processes and events unfold across historical moments and within social life (Latour 2005, 59). The concept of assemblages allows me to trace waste infrastructures in Pakistan across a variety of spatiotemporal scales, in which distinct things, relations, bodies, persons, rationalities, technologies, and forms of work come into and out of view. Moments in which such elements come together are contingent in nature, though their convergence is not accidental and can be examined in relation to a wider set of processes.

26. The City District Government of Lahore (CDGL) consists of the nine Tehsil Municipal Administrations that fall within the Lahore Division. Prior to the CDGL, Lahore was administratively organized as the Municipal Corporation of Lahore, and prior to that, the Lahore Municipal Committee. Currently, the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) is entrusted with the power and authority to oversee waste disposal and management for the CDGL, though it is an administrative entity that falls under the Government of Punjab. Prior to the formation of the LWMC, this power and authority was invested in the Solid Waste Management Department as a part of the CDGL. The Cantonment, which consists of the Lahore and Walton Cantonment Boards and under which the Defence Housing Authority falls, is administratively and infrastructurally separated from the CDGL (see Map 0.2). The Cantonment has its own staff of municipal workers, supervisors, and administrative staff that oversees waste disposal and management. However, much of the actual waste materials collected from within the boundaries of the Cantonment ends up in dumping grounds and landfills located in the CDGL. Most if not all of my fieldwork was carried out in areas falling within the CDGL.

27. This aligns with Mary Douglas’s well-known formulation of “dirt as matter out of place.” For Douglas, dirt “implies two conditions: a set of ordered relations and contravention of that order” (2002, 44). Waste is a conceptual and material entity, but importantly one, as highlighted by Douglas, that creates and enacts a set of relations between materials things, bodies, persons, spaces, and ecologies, in which the work surrounding such an entity becomes crucial to maintaining and reproducing those relations (see also Liboiron 2014).

28. The work of Manu Goswami (2004) has been influential to my framing, as she has highlighted how sociotechnical entities, like land and revenue settlement or railways, were interlinked with producing diverse spatial scales and their attendant imaginaries, whether those be of imperial geographies and global capitalist economies or anticolonial nationalism and the national economy. Similarly, the act of reproducing Lahore as a spatial and imagined entity entails sociotechnical entities being brought together to stabilize such an entity across historical time.

29. The capital-labor relation refers to how accumulation was made possible through exploitation of waged labor in the domain of production. Not only are sanitation workers employed by the municipality as wage laborers, but also this work is intimately tied to the production and consumption of disposable commodities on a mass scale. Concurrently, in Pakistan’s waste economies, as is the case the world over, informalized relations of work and exchange have arisen precisely because of an absence of formalized, waged labor.

30. The insights of this scholarship have sought to examine not only how reproductive forms of work, which tend to performed by gendered and racialized subjects of labor, remain essential to capitalist social relations through their appropriation outside the wage form (see Bear et al. 2015; Herzig and Subramaniam 2017; Mies 1998; Vora 2015), but also how to imagine social relations and forms of economic activity outside those same capitalist relations (Gibson-Graham 2006). This is where these discussions around reproductive work converge with those of the informal economy. Keith Hart reformulated informality in the economy as “an economic variant of the general theory of formal organizations,” though it was formulated in relation to social and economic restructuring happening in Africa in the 1970s and as a technique for engaging with development economists (1985, 58). Importantly, Julia Elyachar has examined how a vacuum between state and society has emerged, in which nongovernmental organizations and other actors from civil society have entered to take on issues around informal housing and poverty alleviation (2005, 2012; see also Roitman 1990; Roy and AlSayyad 2004). Whereas the discussion of the informal economy is vast in its nature, two key aspects of informality are the fact that it is an effect of state-centric discourses and distinctions (e.g., public and private), while also exceeding them as it comes to be embedded in networks of circulation unfolding at a range of scales.

31. A critical aspect of Subramanian’s approach has been to foreground both symbolic and materialist elements through which caste inequality has crystalized across historical moments, which goes against both culturalist approaches that prioritize values of purity (see e.g., Dumont 1980; see also Appadurai 1988 for a critique of Dumont’s approach) or Marxist approaches that subsume caste as a religious phenomenon into class as an encompassing social and political category. Other work (e.g., Béteille 1991; Fuller and Narasimhan 2014) has similarly sought to understand how caste groups have reproduced their power and position across generations through access to similar forms of capital discussed by Subramaniam.

32. This emphasis of how urbanization, waste infrastructures, and urbanization in South Asia are implicated in histories of caste and ethnicity has recently been taken up (see Gidwani and Kumar 2019; Sreenath 2020; Kornberg 2019).

33. Dana Kornberg (2019) makes an analogous point when examining processes of “casteification” among Muslim migrant workers from West Bengal who have entered Delhi’s waste economy. According to Kornberg, “casteification” in this context refers to how caste has become organized through social practices brought together, something that allows it to remain stable while also changing across time.

34. Ambedkar (2014 [1979] had described “endogamy as a key to the mystery of the Caste system”], 5), just as the figure of surplus women (and men) was one to be brought under control though not just through endogamy but also “sati, enforced widowhood, and female infanticide” (Mitra 2021, 17). More generally, there is now a long-established body of work that has sought to center Dalit feminism within Indian feminism, and tracking the ways in which Brahmanical hegemony and patriarchy are constituted jointly, shaping the ritualized and everyday forms of violence exercised upon Dalit women and men (see Arya 2020; Arya and Rathore 2020; Chakravarti 2018; Guru 1995; Rao 2005; Rege 1998).