Nancy Cook

Professor, Sociology

Office: STH 416
905-688-5550 x3176

PhD, York University (Sociology)
MA, York University (Sociology)
HBA, Brock University (Sociology/Women’s Studies)

Nancy Cook teaches and supervises in the areas of gender and sexuality, qualitative research methodologies, imperialism and globalization, gender relations in Pakistan, Muslim women’s lives, critical mobilities studies and feminist, postcolonial and poststructural theory. She has published a book and several articles on transcultural interactions between global North development workers and local populations in northern Pakistan. An interest in transcultural interactions extends through her research on professional development workers who lived in Pakistan for an extended period of time to understanding how their experiences of working abroad have affected their cosmopolitan lives back in Canada. More recently, she has studied the differential gendered mobility implications of new mobile phone infrastructure that links Shimshal village to a global communications network and new road infrastructure that connects the village to the Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan. These studies extent to understanding the social implications of demobilizations experienced by other villages in the region in the aftermath of a landslide disaster that destroyed a large section of the Karakoram Highway. This body of research develops understandings of mobility justice, mobility disaster and the gendered constitution of mobility. Dr. Cook is currently researching gendered mobilities among Muslim women in the Niagara Region to understand their relationship to processes of Islamophobia and social inclusion and exclusion.

Nancy Cook is a core faculty member in the graduate programs of Critical Sociology and Social Justice and Equity Studies, and an affiliate of the Social Justice Research Institute. She is also an Associate Editor of the interdisciplinary journal Studies in Social Justice.

  • Qualitative Methodology
  • Gender Relations
  • Sexualities
  • Contemporary Social Theories
  • feminist, poststructural, postcolonial and social justice theory
  • qualitative methodology
  • gender and imperialism
  • cultural globalisation
  • gender and golbalisation
  • transcultural interactions
  • Muslim women in Pakistan
  • the social implications of mobility infrastructure in northern Pakistan
  • the gendered constitution of (im)mobilities in the rural Global South
  • mobility justice

I am a feminist sociologist who employs a qualitative research paradigm, including ethnographic research methods, to study the gendered, classed, racialised, sexualised, and imperial nature of transcultural interactions among people from the global North and South Asians. My research initially had a historical and textual focus, concentrating on travel literature written by European women about the northwestern reaches of the Raj in the age of high imperialism. This focus subsequently expanded to a concern with white women’s transcultural interactions in contemporary postcolonial northern Pakistan in the context of international development. It expanded yet again to include a preoccupation with the ways in which the globalised identities of professional development workers from Canada, which are constituted in Pakistan during lengthy work terms, become manifest in those subjects’ lives after they return home to constitute a culture of cosmopolitanism. I am beginning a new study that shifts my focus away from Northerners’ imbrication in global processes of imperialism to the impact of imperial transcultural relations on local people in northern Pakistan. This research project investigates the shifting character of transcultural relations and their gendered effects in the village of Shimshal, as mediated through increased geographical accessibility provided by a newly constructed road.

My research contributes empirically, theoretically, methodologically, and politically to the body of feminist postcolonial scholarship. This field of postcolonial research is preoccupied with analysing the historical operations of colonial and imperial relations, marking anti-colonial struggles and dismantling colonial institutions, and searching for alternatives to imperial discourses in the present. Forging a set of discursive practices and political identities that resist imperialism in contemporary settings requires a prior understanding of their legacy of domination in the present. My work takes up the postcolonial challenge to engage with experiences of imperialism and their present effects at the local level of formerly colonised societies so that I can augment imaginings of alternative practices and more just social futures.

I develop a ‘feminist sociology of imperialism’ by temporally updating and empirically grounding previous feminist studies of colonial-era texts. Contemporary ethnographic evidence augments what feminist historians, literary theorists, and geographers have established for colonial-era literature, and reveals the legacy of white women’s imperial involvement in South Asia. I frame a feminist sociology of imperialism, therefore, as a field of study that employs sociological research tools and methodologies to extend and enrich postcolonial understandings of the continuing relationship between women from the global North and imperialism.

My research also contributes to current interdisciplinary debates about the definition, character, and operations of cosmopolitanism. Theorists have provided rather schematic and provocative elucidations of it, but overall the literature lacks substantive detail and empirical examples. By tracing how transnational attachments are developed and instanciated into the everyday, local experience of Canadian development workers, I provide evidence that addresses the question of whether, and to what degree, global processes are directly transforming the cultural conditions of people’s lives. My new project also contributes to important gaps in the literature. It focuses on the under-researched issues of road building and the implications of roads – and the increase in transcultural interactions they provide – for social organisation in Shimshal. Even less research has systematically investigated the effects of road construction on rural women’s lives and on gendered arrangements and power relations. This will be the first such study conducted with Muslim women and men in northern Pakistan.

Considering these engagements and contributions, my research can be readily identified as interdisciplinary. I draw on a cross-disciplinary range of literatures, and aim to address a wide audience of scholars dispersed throughout the Humanities and Social Sciences. I am also interested in developing conversations with scholars in the global South who are studying imperial processes and in translating my analyses for lay audiences, most particularly Northern development workers who are preparing to live abroad, who may then undertake transcultural engagements in a more reflexive manner to engender more equitable global power relations.

For my PhD dissertation I undertook an ethnographic study of a group of white European and North American women who were living in Gilgit, northern Pakistan, in 1999 and 2000, most as international development workers. The project focused on the efforts of these transnational migrants to construct comfortable lives and identities in this socially unfamiliar Pakistani town. In particular, I examined how they construct communities, nurture homes and families, create a sense of self, imagine that self in relation to the indigenous people among whom they live, and build careers and personal relationships in Gilgit. The study yields insights into the challenges and accomplishments these development workers experience while temporarily living and working abroad in a Muslim community. It also analyses the political consequences of their everyday actions, and thus challenges people from the global North to confront the ways in which even their ostensibly benevolent practices reinforce unequal power relations at both the local and global scale. Despite the increased frequency and important ramifications of white women’s global migration to postcolonial locales, the topic has been largely neglected in feminist, sociological, anthropological, postcolonial, and globalisation literatures, as well as by international development institutions.

The theoretical purpose of the research was twofold. First, I wanted to understand how Northern women negotiate their subjectivities (their sense of who they are and how they enact their social positioning) in this transcultural and postcolonial setting through particular discourses that organize their self-understandings and everyday socio-spatial practices. Second, I was interested in how they perpetuate, legitimate, resist, and transform relations of domination as they materially exercise discourses in their daily lives. By investigating these two questions, I contribute to an ethnographically grounded understanding of contemporary transcultural power relations in South Asia, especially as they play out between local Muslims and metropolitan non-Muslims. Moreover, I trace the legacy of many of these relations from the colonial period into the present, and provide ideas about how they can be changed to realize a more just social reality.

Publications related to this research:

  • 2011.  Nancy Cook.  Introduction:  Gender, Power and Transcultural Relations.  ACME:  An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 10(3):  340-350.
  • 2008. Developing Transnational Relations and Subjectivities: The Politics of Virtue and Empowerment in Gilgit, Northern Pakistan. Resources for Feminist Research 32(3/4): 115-141.
  • 2007. Gendering Globalisation: Imperial Domesticity and Identity in Northern Pakistan. Institute on Globalisation and the Human Condition Working Paper Series.
  • 2007. Gender, Identity and Imperialism: Women Development Workers in Pakistan. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • 2006. Bazaar Stories of Gender, Sexuality and Imperial Space in Gilgit, Northern Pakistan. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies5(2): 230-257.
  • 2006. Dealing with Danger: Spatial and Mechanical Manipulations in Gilgit, Pakistan. Gender, Technology and Development, 10: 191-210.
  • 2005.  What to Wear, What to Wear?: Western Women and Imperialism in Gilgit, Pakistan. Qualitative Sociology 28(4): 349-367.

I have attempted to translate the “comparative praxis and vision of transnational knowledge production” that Chandra Mohanty (in the preface to Gender, Identity and Imperialism) identifies with my work into publications suitable for lay audiences who are inculcated in contemporary processes of imperialism. I have focussed particularly on reaching Northern development workers who are preparing to live abroad. Perhaps by reading my analyses of the ways in which women development workers in Gilgit make lives for themselves abroad, as well as the political consequences of those actions and decisions, they may undertake transcultural engagements in a more reflexive, equitable manner. With these goals in mind, I published two pieces that I hope will be used by educators to engender ‘critical literacy’ and reflexive global citizenship among groups such as volunteer development workers.

Publications related to Critical Literacy:

  • 2012. ‘I’m Here to Help’: Development Workers, the Politics of Benevolence and Critical Literacy. In Vanessa Andreotti and Lynn De Souza (eds.),Postcolonial Readings of Global Citizenship Education. London: Routledge, pp. 124-139.
  • 2008. Shifting the Focus of Development: Turning ‘Helping’ into Self-Reflexive Learning. Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices 2(1): 16-26.

Cultures of Cosmopolitanism:

While I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Globalisation and the Human Condition, McMaster University, I began a project that examines local manifestations of globalised identities and their effects on practices of everyday life and possibilities for autonomy. More specifically, it investigates the ways in which the globalised identities of professional development workers from Canada, which are constituted in Pakistan during lengthy work terms, become manifest in those subjects’ lives after they return home to constitute a culture of cosmopolitanism. Ethnographic data detail how the reconstruction of identity as a global subject over time can reshape both daily life and the globalising process in which these individuals are participating. The project also focuses on the relationship between globalised identities and autonomy, first by outlining how development workers use their global experiences, identities, and knowledge to make their own lives more fulfilling and efficacious in Canada, and second, by demonstrating that transcultural experiences can simultaneously initiate practices of human solidarity and advocacy on behalf of Pakistanis and perpetuate oppressive imperial visions in ambivalent ways.

  • 2012. Canadian Development Workers, Transcultural Encounters and Cultures of Cosmopolitanism.  International Sociology, 27(1):  3-19.

A Critical Ethnography of the Shimshal Road:

Shimshal is a farming and herding community of about 110 households, located at 3,000m in the Karakoram Mountain Range, in Pakistan’s Northern Areas. For most of the community’s 400 year history, travel between the village and its nearest neighbour required a walk of at least a week along a difficult footpath that was impassable even for donkeys and yaks. It was several more days’ travel by pony track to Baltit, the capital of the fiefdom of Hunza, and an additional week or so beyond Baltit to Gilgit, the largest centre in what is now northern Pakistan and historically a staging point along the fabled Silk Route. In 1983 the community began to construct a road from Passu (their nearest neighbour, on the Karakoram Highway) to the village of Shimshal, initially with the assistance of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program, an NGO operating out of Gilgit, and later with funding and engineering support from the Government of Pakistan. As road construction proceeded, the time required to travel between Shimshal and Passu decreased, with a commensurate increase in traffic. The trip from Shimshal to the regional centre of Gilgit, which would have taken at least two weeks as recently as the mid 1960s, now takes less than ten hours.

The potential implications of this increase in accessibility for Shimshal are great, in terms of the movement of people and goods, the introduction of ideas and technology, the infiltration of government bureaucracy and commerce, the incorporation of the community into a regional economy and political structure, and so on. One of the advantages Shimshalis identify in ‘getting’ a road so late, and taking so long to construct it, is that it has given them time to think about how to manage these potential effects with reference to the community’s observations about what happened in other communities that went through a similar period of drastically increased accessibility a decade or two earlier.

After two decades of informal observations and conversations with Shimshals about the road, David Butz (Brock, Geography) and I have recently begun a more comprehensive, historically-grounded ethnography of social change in Shimshal in the context of increases in accessibility facilitated by the road’s construction. To the extent that our study will rely heavily on community-members’ own perspectives and experiences, it will also be an autoethnography of social change (Besio and Butz 2004; Butz and Besio 2004).

The results of this research – currently in its very early stages – will be important for several reasons. First, road building is a significant aspect of NGO development work and government infrastructure initiatives in northern Pakistan and throughout the developing world, but with little attention to micro-level implications for community members and with the assumption that effects will be generally positive. When implications are studied, they tend to focus strictly on economic benefits without considering social implications, and they seldom attempt to understand the perspectives of the people whose lives have been most directly affected by drastically increased accessibility. Second, while mountainous northern Pakistan is nearing the end of a period of rapid and intense road infrastructure development, little effort has been devoted to assessing whether the predictions of the meso-level models upon which this development was based are borne out on the ground. This study, while not aspiring to provide a regional-level evaluation of the social effects of infrastructural development, will develop a detailed case study that contributes to the early stages of that process of assessment. Third, because we have interview transcripts from a couple of years before the road was finished, which we will complement by conducting interviews a few years after the completion of the road, we will be able to describe shifts in villagers’ perspectives and concerns across a crucial transitional period. This is not a systematically longitudinal research project, but it does have a valuable longitudinal dimension that is rare in studies of this sort. Fourth, most studies of accessibility in rural parts of the developing world treat communities super-organically, and thus fail to tease out the variable implications of increasing accessibility for different groups within a community. Our study will do that because we will have in-depth qualitative information, and because we already have a strong sense of social (economic, political, gender, household, etc.) organisation in the community. Fifth, while Shimshalis have struggled long and hard to construct a road to their village, they are clearly also concerned about its implications for their lives. The results of this study will provide the community with an analysis that will allow the SNT to plan more carefully and knowledgeably for their future. Sixth, the study will provide a detailed analysis of an indigenous community in a rapid phase of transition. As such it will be a valuable contribution to ethnographic scholarship on the Karakorum region of Pakistan, and also to larger bodies of critical scholarship on development and modernisation in rural parts of the developing world.

2019. Cook, N. and D. Butz. (Eds). Mobilities, Mobility Justice and Social Justice. London: Routledge.

2019. Cook, N. and D. Butz. Moving Toward Mobility Justice. In N. Cook and D. Butz (Eds.), Mobilities, Mobility Justice and Social Justice (pp. 3-21). London: Routledge.

2019. Butz, D. and N. Cook. Mobilities Research, Epistemic Justice, and Mobility Justice. In N. Cook and D. Butz (Eds.), Mobilities, Mobility Justice and Social Justice (pp. 82-97). London: Routledge.

2018. Butz, D. and N. Cook. Autoehtnography, Knowledge Governance and the PANOS Oral Testimony program in Shimshal, Pakistan. Navein Reet: Nordic Journal of Law and Social Research 8: 27-44.

2018. Cook, N. and D. Butz. Gendered Mobilities in the Making:  Moving from a Pedestrian to Vehicular Mobility Landscape in Shimshal, Pakistan. Social and Cultural Geography, 19(5): 606-625.

2017. Butz, D. and N. Cook. The Epistemological and Ethical Value of Autophotography for Mobilities Research in Transcultural Contexts. Studies in Social Justice, 11(2): 238-274.

2016. Cook, N. and D. Butz. Mobility Justice in the Context of Disaster. Mobilities 11(3): 400-419.

2016. Butz, D. and N. Cook. Political Ecology of Human-Environmental Change in Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. In Hermann Kreutzmann and Teiji Wantanabe (Eds.), Mapping Transition i the Pamirs: With Case Studies on the Changing Human-Environmental Landscapes (pp. 175-190). New York: Springer.

2015. Cook, N. and D. Butz. The Dialectical Constitution of Mobility and Immobility: Recovering from the Attabad Landslide Disaster, Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Contemporary South Asia 23(4): 388-408.

2013. Cook, N. and D. Butz. The Atta Abad Landslide and Everyday Mobility in Gojal, Northern Pakistan. Mountain Research and Development 33(4): 372-380.

2011. Butz, D. and N. Cook. Accessibility Interrupted: The Shimshal Road, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Canadian Geographer, 55(3): 354-364.

2011. Cook, N. and Butz, D. Narratives of Accessibility and Social Change in Shimshal, Northern Pakistan. Mountain Research and Development, 31(1): 27-34.

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