ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Sabar, the work of time and the ethics of waiting in South Asia


Maqsood Ammara - University College London, UCL Anthropology, London, United Kingdom


24 – Timely Histories: A Social History of Time in South Asia


 In my previous work, I have looked at the work of time on a marriage, and how it transforms people just as they struggle to change and leave traces of others. Deploying the vernacular category of sabar (forbearance), I discussed how time, and references to time, act as a canvas for a confluence of human and non-human interventions, influences, and motivations. In this paper, I extend my argument beyond the contexts of marriages and of pious Muslim circles to think more broadly about the category of sabar and as part of a larger ethics of waiting in South Asia. Based on fieldwork in three different settings – middle-class groups in Lahore and Karachi, working-class groups evicted from their homes in Lahore and upwardly-mobile Hindus in Karachi – I examine the ways in which references to sabar and waiting express a certain kind of trust in the working of time and the directions in which it takes people. I use these reflections to think about the nature of time in such settings, the kinds of temporalities that emerge and how they may intersect with ideas about the self, others, and how to live a meaningful and purposed life.