Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia
Zehra Hashmi

Zehra Hashmi

Postdoctoral Fellow in International and Public Affairs

I am an anthropologist and historian who works on identification technologies in South Asia. My research explores the everyday workings of securitization and surveillance in Pakistan through the intersection of identification, migration, kinship, and postcolonial and colonial governance. I received my PhD from the Interdepartmental Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan and my BA from Columbia University.

My current book project is a historical ethnography of Pakistan’s national identification regime. I examine how this identification system uses data as a kin-making substance to redefine who counts as kin and, by extension, a Pakistani citizen. I argue that interrogating such a reliance on kinship and genealogical relations reconfigures our understanding of modern identification practices, as individual identity is produced and tracked through relatedness, not unique bodily characteristics or biometrics alone. In turn, I analyze how and why a governance technology comes to disproportionately impact Pashtun migrants in Islamabad who experience the direct effects of both new and residual forms of militarization. By situating a state-run security infrastructure within the legacies of colonial rule and the experiences of those who encounter it, my work brings an anthro-historical understanding to bear on debates concerning a central feature of modern life today: digital identification. This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Organization, and the Charlotte Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.

My interest in identification technology has led me to pursue future research on the role of tracking technologies in the domain of public health. My next project analyzes how technologies that track pandemic networks and polio vaccination in Pakistan intersect with questions of public health surveillance, epidemiology and the politics of empire.