School of Social and Political Science

Laila Rajani

Job Title

PhD Student

Laila Rajani



Working Title

The Progress Paradox: Exploring the nexus between development, social inequalities, and mental distress in northern Pakistan


Mental health activists and service-users have long argued for research and interventions to take into consideration structural determinants of mental distress such as violence and inequality. Yet, current scholarship on high rates of mental distress amongst women in Pakistan focus on proximal social determinants (factors pertaining to individuals and families).

This project challenges public health investigations that places responsibility of poor mental health of women in the region on family conflict, thereby misplacing causal accountability and missing the opportunity for large-scale transformation and social change. Taking poor mental health amongst women in northern Pakistan as a case study, this project examines how structural determinants such as gender inequality, poverty, and impact of development interventions, shape women’s mental health in northern Pakistan.


Wellcome Trust Doctoral Studentship in Social Science and Bioethics


2021-Present: PhD Student in International Development, University of Edinburgh

2015-2017: MA in Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University Bloomington (Fulbright)

2009-2013: B.Sc Hons in Sociology and Anthropology, Lahore University of Management Sciences


Dossa, S., Rajani, L., Mahar, M., (In preparation). Doing Feminist Digital Ethnography in Pakistan
during COVID-19 (tentative). Article for the project ‘Family and Community in the time of COVID-19
(FACT)’. University College London.

Sayeed, A., Mallah, H.B., and Rajani, L., (2014). Class Conflict, Extraneous Factors, or Institutional
Vacuum? Review Paper on Causes of Violence in Swat. Report for The Asia Foundation. Collective
for Social Science Research.


(2020). Shifting the Focus: Conducting Online Ethnographies in times of COVID-19. Talk
given at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Sponsored by Hanns Seidel Foundation.

(2020). Doing Ethnography in the time of COVID-19. Panellist at Pakistan Institute of
Development Economics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

(2017). Putting Folklore Studies to Work in the Public Sector. Roundtable at the Future of
American Folkloristics conference. Indiana University, Bloomington.

(2017). Eric ki Baithak (Gathering at Eric’s): Place making in Informal Musical Gatherings
in Brooklyn’s Little Pakistan. 11th Annual Meeting of Landscape, Space and Place Conference.
Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana.

(2016). Indiana, New York and Pakistan: How structural factors impact cultural work?
Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society and International Society for Folk Narrative
Research. Miami, Florida.


(2016). Baseline Survey for ‘Kaleidoscope: Muslim Traditional Art and Culture in New York State’ Project. Report for New York Folklore Society.

(2016). Little Pakistan in Brooklyn: A Preliminary Survey of Pakistani Cultural Life in New
York City. Report for Brooklyn Arts Council, New York.

(2015). In the Heart of Darkness: Shia Resistance and Revival in Pakistan. The Herald.
Dawn Media Group. June 2015 issue. URL:…


Research interests