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Department of Politics and International Studies

Dr Sanaa Alimia

BA Hons, History of International Relations; MSc, History of International Relations (London School of Economics), PhD (SOAS)


Sanaa Alimia
Dr Sanaa Alimia
Email address:
SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Office Hours:
Thursday 1-2pm


Sanaa Alimia is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Government and Politics of South Asia and Government and Politics of Modern South Asia. Dr Alimia specialises in urban politics, refugee studies, trasnationalism, and issues of citizenship, check-posts, and bio¬politics with particular attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Her research is based on a multidisciplinary approach including the use of oral narratives and ethnography and analyzes the shared lives of Afghan refugees and devalued Pakistani citizens in ‘everyday’ urban Pakistan.

During Term 1 of 2013/14 she is acting as a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Peshawar, Pakistan where she is teaching an MPhil Course ‘Migration in a Global Racialised World c.21’. She holds a PhD from SOAS and Masters degree from the London School of Economics. She has previously taught Comparative and International Politics at SOAS and has presented on her work on Afghans in Pakistan and the urban Pakistani poor in the media, academic conferences, and public lectures.

PhD Publications

  • Alimia, Sanaa. Forthcoming 2014. ‘Pushing Beyond Theories of Everyday Urban Resistance: Self-Humanisation in Urban Pakistan - Afghan Refugees and Pakistani Citizens,’ in Journal of Contemporary Asia - Special Edition: Rethinking Resistance.
  • Alimia, Sanaa. Forthcoming 2013. Conference Proceedings: ‘How Identity Cards are Changing Cross-Border Identities: The Case of Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ in Dynamics of Change in Conflict Societies: Pakhtun Region in Perspective Conference Proceedings, University of Peshawar and Hanns Seidel Foundation, Peshawar.

PhD Conferences

  • Jun 2013. Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad: Distinguished Public Lecture Series.
    Paper Presented: The Future of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan.
    Chair: Dr. Najam Rafique.
  • Jun 2013. University of Peshawar and the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Peshawar: Dynamics of Change in Conflict Societies: Pakhtun Region in Perspective.
    Paper Presented: How are Identity Cards and Enumeration Changing Cross-Border Relationships between Afghans and Pakistanis?
    Chair: Dr. Sana Haroon, University of Massachusetts.
  • Jun 2013. University College London, London: Forced Migration: Global Perspectives and Practices. Paper Presented: The Transnational City in Pakistan Karachi and Peshawar: Shared Afghan and Pakistani Spaces.
  • Mar 2013. Yale University, Connecticut:  South Asian Studies Council, Macmillan Centre: Modern South Asia Workshop.
    Panel: Negotiating Marginality.
    Paper Presented: The Theatre of the Check Post in South Asia: Humiliation, Harassment and Resistance: Afghans in Pakistan & Kashmiris in India.
  • Jan 2013. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Westminster Woking Group: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    Panel: Ethnic Relations, Militancy and Sectarianism in Pakistan.
    Presentation: Afghans in Pakistan – A ‘New’ Ethnic Group in Pakistan?
  • Nov 2012. 111th American Anthropological Association 2012, San Francisco, California.
    Panel:  Dialectics of Terrorism: Sites of Terror, Imagined Monsters, and ‘Real’ Bad Guys.
    Paper Presented: Disciplining the ‘Dangerous’ Afghan Body in Pakistan: Harassment, Humiliation, and Identity Cards.
    Chair: Dr. Junaid A Rana, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.
  • May 2012. Stanford University, California: South Asia by the Bay.
    Panel: Urban Life and Urban Processes.
    Paper Presented: Self Sustaining Urban Peripheries and the Shared Realities between Afghan Refugees and Devalued Pakistani Citizens.
    Chair: Dr. Thomas Blom Hansen, Stanford University.
  • Nov 2011. Oxford University, Oxford:  Department of Sociology and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) & South Asia in Transition.
    Paper Presented: Afghans Refugees and the Devalued Citizen in Pakistan: Shared Realities? Networks, Negotiations, and ‘Security’ in Pakistan.
    Chair: Dr. Faisal Devji, Oxford University.
  • Nov 2011. SOAS, London: Research Students Society (RSS) Seminar Series: Fieldwork: How to Do It and How to Survive Coming Back.
    Presentation: Ethnographic Research and How to Complete Oral Histories.
    Chair: Dr. Matthew J. Nelson, SOAS.


Sanaa Alimia’s doctoral research, The Quest for Humanity in a Dehumanised State: Afghan Refugees and Devalued Citizens in Urban Pakistan 1979-2012 was a comparative analysis of Pakistani citizens and Afghan refugees - specifically the urban poor - in Pakistan, and involved 12 months of fieldwork in Karachi, Peshawar, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Asking the question: Does citizenship matter in urban Pakistan (in terms of protecting citizens from the worst forms of predation)? it illuminates that in urban Pakistan, despite languages of legal distinction, Afghan refugees and Pakistani citizens occupy similar everyday realities and are reliant on informal politics to “survive” and redistribute material and non-material goods. Only in cases of state security was “citizenship” revealed to have some value. Her research reveals how both Afghans and Pakistanis are let down by official structures (the state and international refugee regime) but, as well as being explained as material failures, these failures are also explicitly expressed through a language of “dehumanisation”. Similarly, informal politics - via their social solidarity networks - are expressed, remembered, and acted through a language of “self-humanisation” – of insaniyat (humanity), izzat (respect), and azmat (dignity). Producing a space for moral frames in “everday politics” she demonstrates how informal political activities create a lasting non-material impact on official structures and state sovereignty.

Central Asia; South Asia; Pakistan; Afghanistan; Refugees; Citizenship; Migration; Transnationalism; Displacement; Informal Politics; Urban Politics; Surveillance, Biopolitics, Discrimination; Islam; Check-posts.