Waqas Butt

Assistant Professor
AP 217


Fields of Study

Areas of Interest

Research Keywords: Caste, Work and Labor, Waste, Infrastructures, Development, Value, Materiality, Colonial and Post-Colonial Cities

Research Region: Pakistan, South Asia


My research takes a stigmatized form of labor—waste work—as a point of entry to explore two interrelated questions. First, how have historical events, both past and ongoing, continually reshaped Pakistan’s fraught urban landscape? And second, in what ways have the connections among caste, waste, labor, and infrastructures both endured and transformed across South Asia? Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Lahore and the Punjab, my current book project examines the ways in which waste workers, who are drawn predominantly from low or non-caste groups, have become essential components of urban life through the everyday and intimate workings of waste infrastructures. This work brings together a variety of concerns—materiality of waste and value, histories of caste, stigmatized labor, and urbanization, and global circuits of development and capital—to unpack the unexpected socio-political processes by which urban life is currently unfolding across South Asia and globally

Major Awards and Grants

2015 American Institute of Pakistan Studies, Short-term Lecturing and Research Fellowship

2014 Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Dissertational Research Grant



Life Beyond Waste: Work and Infrastructure in Urban Pakistan. Stanford University Press.


2023. South Asian Urban Climates : Towards Pluralistic Narratives and Expanded Lexicons. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (with Rehman, N., Parikh, A., Lamb, Z., Syal, S., Ghertner, D.A., Menon, S., Anwar, N., Nabi, H., Ranganathan, M., Srinivasan, K., Bhat, H., Powis, A., Anand, N.)

2020. “Accessing Value in Lahore’s Waste Infrastructures.” Ethnos, pp.1-21.

2020. “Technics of Labor: Productivism, Expertise, and Solid Waste Management in a Public‐Private Partnership.” Anthropology of Work Review, 41(2), pp.108-118.

2020. “Between Work and Labor: Valuing Action in South Asia.” Anthropology of Work Review 41(2): 71-75. (written with Maira Hayat and Adam Sargent).

2020. “Waste intimacies: Caste and the unevenness of life in urban Pakistan.” American Ethnologist 47 (3): 234-248.

2019. “Beyond the Abject: Caste and the Organization of Work in Pakistan’s Waste Economy.” International Labor and Working-Class History 95: 18-33.

2017. “Distributing destruction: Construction, waste and atmospheres in Lahore.” City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 21 (5): 614-621.


University of California - San Diego, 2018

Graduate Students