The (In)Visible Workers: Gender, Status, and Space in the New Service Economy in Pakistan


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Pakistan’s recent transition to a service economy has created an expanding and highly visible group of women beauty and retail workers, thereby defying prevalent norms that typically seclude women in their homes. Drawing on interviews and observations in a women-only marketplace and a mixed- gender department store, this project shows that these jobs are associated with contradictory moral and economic statuses. This study develops the concept of status ambiguity to capture these contradictions and argues that this ambiguity is gendered and leveraged by women to maximize their own economic and social status in multiple ways. Ultimately, status ambiguity renders these workers illegible to state and society, allowing them to enter the public sphere in unprecedented numbers without generating societal backlash.