Sobia Kaker on the Geopolitics of Enclaved Urbanism: a case study of Karachi

The geopolitics and security team were joined last week by Sobia Kaker who is currently completing a PhD at Newcastle with Steve Graham and Martin Coward. Sobia gave us a fascinating insight into her work on enclave urbanism in Karachi and the geopolitical implications of enclaves in urban spaces.

The Dictionary of Human Geography defines enclaves as small pieces of territory that are culturally distinct and politically separate from other territories within which they are located. The term is often used to refer to a bounded, enclosed and  fortified space displaying ‘distinctive economic, social and cultural attributes from its surroundings’. These spatial entities are increasingly prevalent in violent mega cities and Karachi is no exception.  Described by some as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Karachi is a space characterised by violence, fear and insecurity, playing host to deep ethnic division, infrastructural failure and a highly negligent state.  As a means of mitigating this perpetual state of insecurity, affluent residents ‘bunker down’ to privately secure their own  residential spaces.  Sobia’s research on Clifton Block 7 among other residential communities, articulates an affluent enclave demarcated by tightly enclosed barriers operated by guards. The residents hold deep suspicions of surrounding informal settlements and perceive the state police to be incapable of providing security.  The Clifton Block 7 settlement reflects a deep feeling of insecurity and a perceived need to exert securitising power  in the vacuum created by the state through private policing and a high degree of social control within the enclave’s boundaries

However, as Sobia told us, there is a paradoxical relationship between this form of enclavisation and security.  Sobia suggests that these fortified spaces are contributing to an urban crisis of security in Karachi that produces subjugation and generates inequality and which ‘perpetuates social segregation based socio-economic differences’.  The magnification of socio-political divisions serves to accentuate violence and compound fragmentation. As such, enclavisation and violence can become interlocked in a circular power struggle which the state shows little interest in solving. The rejection of state power in favour of privatised security may feel safe on a superficial level, but as Sobia highlights, it can conversely create exceptional spaces to which the state feels no obligation. Thus whilst the collective enclave seeks to strengthen/create informal security structures, this can also serve to weaken the securitising leverage of any community due to the distance it creates from formal authority.

Concomitantly, Sobia highlighted how low income/ethnic enclaves such as Sultanabad can challenge the very definition of enclaves as distinct fortified spaces. Sultanabad is an inner city squatter settlement. It is not walled, gated or guarded and during the day time at least, there are few circulatory restrictions between inside/outside. To those on the ‘outside’, access to the settlement is very much governed by imaginaries, suspicions and perceptions of a violent space outside of police jurisdiction.  Whilst fortifications and physical structures are key to understanding processes of enclavisation, Sobia’s research demonstrates the variations in the typologies of enclaves. Whilst the Sultanabad settlement may seem like a single enclave to ‘outsiders’, to those on the inside, the demarcations are far more complex. The social fragmentation of inside/outside is further compounded by the sub ethnic-enclaves that permeate the space. These loosely organised ethnic clusters, or kinship networks, offer a distinct alternative to the much more rigid structure of enclaves such as Clifton Block 7 which are governed by strict social norms and physical boundaries.

Whether the case study is Clifton Block 7, or Sultanabad, imaginative geographies are pivotal in the maintenance of enclaves and in the process if enclavisation itself. These imaginaries have very real spatial implications that only serve to perpetuate the fragmenting demarcations of secure and insecure areas. It is clear that perceptions, fears and suspicions act as restrictions and filters in themselves and thus have a role in shaping the fragmented social structures that have come to define Karachi as a city. Sobia spoke of her own experiences of this in her fieldwork. She was told by local people that certain areas were highly dangerous and volatile and that she should not go there, only to find a quite different reality on arrival. As well as giving us a personal insight into spatial imgainaries in Karachi, personal anecdotes such as this also reminded us of some of the challenges of field-research. As we begin to think about or start our dissertations, hearing about Sobia’s methodologies was extremely interesting in itself and I was certainly challenged to think about questions of access, the importance of gatekeepers and the need to deconstruct pervasive spatial stereotypes when conducting research.



2 thoughts on “Sobia Kaker on the Geopolitics of Enclaved Urbanism: a case study of Karachi

  1. Pingback: Question and Answer Session with the Geopolitics and Security Group, Royal Holloway | Critical Junction

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