An Uncommon Path to Professor: Adeem Suhail
"Once my eyes were open, I couldn't just go back to a normal 9-to-5 existence."
Adeem Suhail was visiting his hometown of Karachi, Pakistan, in 2007 when then-prime minister Benazir Bhutto — the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim country — was assassinated.
"Once my eyes were open, I couldn't just go back to a normal 9-to-5 existence," said Suhail, assistant professor of anthropology at Franklin & Marshall College.
An undergraduate student in engineering at the time, it changed the trajectory of his career.
"I decided to dedicate myself to studying exactly how and why violence perpetuates in this part of the world," Suhail said.
Suhail's research addresses issues in the anthropology of violence, social theory and urban studies. He will expand on this research at a Common Hour lecture on Feb. 9 titled "Dreaming at the World's End: Dispatches on an Emergent Cosmopolitics from South Asia." The lecture, which is open to the public, will take place in F&M's Mayser Gymnasium at 11:30 a.m. A recording will be made available after the event.
What else influenced Suhail's academic path, and what advice does he have for current students? Learn more below.
Your research addresses issues in the anthropology of violence, social theory and urban studies. What drew you to these topics?
You move through life and you find different reasons for different things. I came to the United States — having never left Pakistan in my life — to become an engineer [at the University of Texas] in 2005.
In 2007, people were sick and tired of being party to thousands of Afghan and Pakistani lives lost as the Taliban insurgency spread, and U.S. bombardment began in Pakistan. And so, the Pakistani people started a pro-democracy movement which was also a cry against the violence of empire.
I was just an engineer, but I started reading up on history. Got interested in the movement. There were protests happening every day. The military dictatorship was murderously silencing democratic voices in Pakistan. I was there when Pakistan's first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was murdered.
Once my eyes were open, I couldn't just go back to a normal 9-to-5 existence. As if history was not being written in blood on the streets. In 2008, democracy was restored to Pakistan. It remains embattled. It's a constant struggle. Thousands have died for it. But I decided to dedicate myself to studying exactly how and why violence perpetuates in this part of the world — these different stages, different scales. My engineer brain caught a different kind of bug and I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to solve these things.' And that became my research.
What inspired you to become a professor?
One of the great American philosophers of our times is Mr. Fred Moten. With [activist and scholar] Stefano Harney, he wrote a highly influential book in 2012 titled "The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study."
They coined this brilliant idea of fugitivity that stuck with me. We who are cut off from the mythologies of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism, and the kinds of violence that sustain those processes — we need someplace to incubate, to just lay low, to be fugitives from capitalism. The university is something that they identified as one of those last vestiges. The college is one of those last places where people actually can think freely, right?
People can still go to colleges and universities — especially liberal arts colleges — and think outside the boxes that have been cut out for us already. Liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican: People are just stuck with these identities, and the college becomes one of those places where one can think more humanly, can think big, can think deep.
Many students arrive at F&M unsure of their path (and that's okay). What advice do you have for those students?
When I came to the University of Texas, I knew that I was against all war — but I didn't know much else. When I came to college, I found community. People I'd never met before — my first allies. In them, these strangers, I found lives I could identify with as "my people." Many of them remain my best friends today.
And so, it's not about what your path is, but all the lives you walk it with. It's about learning how to learn with and learn from them. That's what college is about. Everything else, you learn on the job. What's more important to me is to have a diversity of experiences, to expose yourself to everything under the sun. And F&M does a great job of curating that, of opting students into that experience.
Liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican: People are just stuck with these identities, and the college becomes one of those places where one can think more humanly, can think big, can think deep.
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