Final Public Oral Exam: Amna Qayyum

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
June 29, 2021 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

The Demographic State: Population, Global Biopolitics, and Decolonization in South Asia, 1947-71


Gyan Prakash, adviser
Jeremy Adelman
Muhammad Qasim Zaman
Elora Shehabuddin, Rice University


In 1961 Pakistan became the second country in the world, following India, to enact an official fertility control policy. Over the course of the decade Pakistan emerged as an epicenter for transnational demographic research and practice, quickly transforming a prior urban, clinical focus into an expansive statewide project of population control. In dialogue with a global population establishment, Pakistani actors debated effective methods for calculating demographic statistics, adopting particular contraceptive technologies, and reshaping socio-cultural norms. These transnational projects of population control also stimulated debate over normative state power, inter- wing inequities, and Cold War geopolitics in Pakistan - ultimately shaping protests against Ayub Khan’s authoritarian regime.
Set within the context of two partitions – of British India in 1947 and the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971 – this study traces histories of population management to analyze state-making, and unmaking, in East and West Pakistan. It situates Pakistan not simply as a Cold War laboratory, but rather a critical geography in the production of demographic knowledge and practices. “The Demographic State” argues that postwar regimes of eugenic and Malthusian knowledge were not solely tools of an expanding Cold War era American security apparatus. Drawing on materials from social scientists, medical and public health professionals, women’s welfare activists, bureaucrats, and Islamic modernists, this dissertation demonstrates how intersecting national and transnational regimes of population management were crucial in shaping normative notions of reproduction, Islamic practice, health, and rural development; fashioning practices and technologies of postcolonial state- making; and instituting racialized and gendered forms of global governance. However, rather than seeing such forms of global governance as a powerless web transcending national borders, this dissertation examines how postcolonial sovereignty intersected with, and disrupted, such biopolitical projects. It demonstrates that population management was a multi-scalar project grounded not only in racialized Cold War biology and economy, but also the ethical and normative considerations underpinning practices of postcolonial sovereignty. Building on histories of decolonization, Cold War science and technology, and Islamic thought this dissertation then analyzes how the encounters between postcolonial sovereignty and global biopolitics unfolded in everyday Pakistan.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.


Area of Interest: 
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Economic History
History & Public Policy
Intellectual History
International Development
Medicine & Health
20th Century