Socio-spatial and economic inequality has heightened under the contemporary model of “expulsionary” development in Pakistan. It is rooted in creating silos of affluence and abundance for the privileged few by unleashing a vicious cycle of immiseration and insecurity on the working people in the form of gated housing enclaves. These are exclusive cities within a city. They offer well maintained roads, street lights, 24/7 security guards, shopping malls, golf-courses, restaurants, parks, schools/universities, hospitals, and other amenities within the walls of an exclusive gated community to high-income households. It is not just that the majority of Pakistanis are being priced out of the gated housing enclaves but the manner in which they have been created has been devastating on small peasants and indigenous local communities. Developing a gated housing enclave requires a large tract of land at low prices. Such land is rarely available in dense urban centers. Thus, real estate capital goes towards peripheries of the city to secure the land for enclaved spaces. This has led to the displacement of small farming communities from their land and local livelihoods. I refer to it as a case of “expulsionary urbanization” by drawing from the seminal work of Saskia Sassen.

Expulsionary urbanization is predicated on the redistribution of resources from the bottom (small peasants) to the top (real estate developers). In other words, the Pakistani elites are appropriating spaces of historically marginalized groups for the purpose of consumption and accumulation. Pakistan is the fifth most populous country of the world and one of the fastest urbanizing nations in South Asia. Since the advent of neoliberal reforms in early 1990s, it has undergone rapid urbanization. Urbanization has become synonymous with the development of new gated housing enclaves in Pakistan. The biggest winners of this socio-spatial transformation are the large real estate developers. They have accumulated a large sum of wealth in a short span of time. And with wealth comes the power. Not surprisingly, real-estate developers have become an important player in Pakistani politics and the news-media industry.

All of this started with Pakistan’s attempt to climb up the economic ladder by aggressively implementing neoliberal economic reforms in 1990s under the aegis of international financial institutions. Among other things, it included privatization, financialization, and deregulation of land markets. Successive governments provided fiscal incentives such as tax breaks, tax holidays, duty exemptions, and preferential access to credit to real estate developers. This explains the supply-side dynamics in the growth of gated housing enclaves.

To understand the demand-side, we need to look at the provision of public goods: paved streets, proper sewerage system, trash removal services, piped water connections, uninterrupted supply of electricity, neighborhood parks, as well as other urban amenities are inadequately provisioned by the postcolonial state. A huge infrastructural gap existed (continues to exist) in Pakistani cities and the gated housing enclaves came as a “neoliberal” solution to fill this gap through a market mechanism. Gated housing enclave are going to offer basic infrastructure and public amenities (including a sense of security) by charging a premium fee to its residents.

In other words, the state recused itself from its duty of providing basic infrastructural goods in urban spaces and created a market for private real-estate developers to step in. Real estate developers have graciously accepted the offer and made big bucks from the “government failure.” This is the political economy background in which a socio-spatial apartheid has been created in the form of gated housing enclaves. Therefore, the growth of gated housing enclaves cannot be seen in isolation from the neoliberal policy reforms.

There are huge environmental and socio-economic costs of expulsionary urbanization as farmland, green spaces, and forests are being converted into gated housing enclaves.

It has led to an unprecedented sprawl across cities in Pakistan. Urban sprawl tends to have a negative footprint on environment as green spaces and tress are being replaced by gravel and concrete. Air pollution has increased substantially in the past two decades. Further, Pakistan is among the most water-scarce countries in the world, and the water crisis has accentuated under the regime of expulsionary development. Last but not least, it has worsened the situation of food security in Pakistan as farmland is being rapidly converted into commercial real estates.

Marxian political economy has been primarily interested in theorizing the dynamics of appropriation of surplus-labor. The case of expulsionary urbanization underscores the centrality of the appropriation of space (land and nature) in contemporary processes of capitalist development. In the context of the long durée of capitalist development, displacement and dispossession of small peasants have always played an instrumental role in processes of capital accumulation. Marx (1977) referred to it as “primitive accumulation” in the context of Western Europe. For Marx, this concept is centered on two interrelated processes: i) the separation of non-capitalist producers from their means of production/subsistence, and ii) the proletarianization of the dispossessed and displaced segments of population as they are hired as wage laborers by capital.

What is especially interesting about the case of expulsionary urbanization in Pakistan is that it illustrates qualitatively distinct contemporaneous processes of dispossession and displacement. That is, processes of displacement and proletarianization have been largely decoupled. Capital is now primarily interested in appropriating spaces (land and nature) occupied by working people rather than securing their labor-power. Thus, I argue that Marxian political economy literature needs to develop and theorize the notion of the “appropriation of space” by capital. In this regard, the framework of the “subsumption of space” by capital offers a pertinent point of departure. It frames the contestation over space (land and nature) in the context of class struggle. It also provides a Marxian theoretical foundation of building emancipatory/transformative politics around the agenda of protecting the spaces of the marginalized—such as small peasants and slum-residents—from the encroachment of capital.


Danish Khan is an Assistant Professor and a co-Director of “The Inequality, Poverty, Power & Social Justice Initiative” at Franklin & Marshall College. He is also an Andrew W Mellon High Impact Emerging Scholar.

To read more, see Danish Khan. “Political Economy of Expulsionary Urbanization: Subsumption and Estrangement of Spaces in Pakistan” in Review of Radical Political Economics 2022.

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