Skip to main content Accessibility help

Do-it-Yourself Activism in Pakistan: The Fatal Celebrity of Qandeel Baloch

  • Zainab B. Alam
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.


In July 2016, Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch was asphyxiated by her brother and gained posthumous celebrity in the West where her death was sensationally categorized as an honor-killing. Yet Qandeel was a celebrity in her own right among South Asians long before her death. Through skillful use of social media, she created new forms of public space and used them to challenge dominant social norms and political practices. I examine Qandeel’s “do-it-yourself activism”—her innovative use of the digital public sphere to position herself as a worthy representative of Pakistani nationality; to critique long-established norms governing gender, class, and sexuality; and to expand the boundaries of national belonging in Pakistan to include culturally rebellious women of limited economic means. By examining Qandeel’s audacious means of standing for Pakistan, her deployment of marriage proposals as a mode of subversive political activism within the political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice, PTI), and her use of visual culture (“selfies”) to challenge the moral authority of a powerful Islamic cleric, I theorize a form of political activism grounded in women’s agency that deploys celebrity to illuminate and politicize injustices.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Do-it-Yourself Activism in Pakistan: The Fatal Celebrity of Qandeel Baloch
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Do-it-Yourself Activism in Pakistan: The Fatal Celebrity of Qandeel Baloch
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Do-it-Yourself Activism in Pakistan: The Fatal Celebrity of Qandeel Baloch
      Available formats



Hide All

She would like to thank Mary Hawkesworth, Cynthia Daniels, Mona Lena Krook, Kira Sanbonmatsu, and Sylvia Chan-Malik for their careful readings, helpful comments, and encouraging support throughout the evolution of this paper. She is incredibly grateful to have their scholarly expertise inform and inspire her research.



Hide All
Agarwal, Sheetal D., Barthel, Michael L., Rost, Caterina, Borning, Alan, Bennett, W. Lance, and Johnson, Courtney N.. 2014. “Grassroots Organizing in the Digital Age: Considering Values and Technology in Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.” Information, Communication & Society 17(3): 326–41.
Ajaz, Mahwash. 2018. “Is ‘Baaghi’ a Disservice to the Real-Life Qandeel Baloch?The Express Tribune, January 16.
Akbar, Zahid. 2016. “Ganjey Ka Khatima Karna Hai, Go Nawaz Go—Qandeel Baloch Message For Imran Khan.” Dailymotion. May 1.
ARY News. 2017. “Mufti Qavi Vows to Improve ’Prison Conditions’ after Securing Bail.” ARYNEWS. November 15.
AuratMarch2018. 2018. “AuratMarch2018 (@AuratMarch2018).” Twitter. May 11.
Aziz, Fatima. 2017. “Performing Citizenship: Freedom March Selfies by Pakistani Instagrammers”. In Selfie Citizenship, ed. Kuntsman, Adi, 2128. Manchester: Palgrave Macmillan.
Baig, Farah and Siddiqui, Kamran. 2012. “Impact of Sports Celebrity Endorsements on the Purchase Intentions of Pakistani Youth.” Journal of Independent Studies and Research, 10(1): 2342.
Baloch, Qandeel. 2016a. “Qandeel Baloch (@QandeelQuebee).” Twitter. July 15.
Baloch, Qandeel. 2016b. “Video on Pakistan’s Cricket Loss.” Reposted by YouTube user Micky Mexania, 2016, as “Qandeel Baloch Cries and Abuse Pakistan’s Team after India Win Over Pakistan T20 World Cup 2016 Yo.” YouTube, March 21.
Baloch, Qandeel. 2016c. “A Marriage Proposal to Imran Khan.” Reposted by YouTube user Mexania, Micky as “Qandeel Baloch’s Marriage Proposal to Imran Khan YouTube.” YouTube, March 21.
Banaji, Shakuntala. 2011. South Asian Media Cultures: Audiences, Representations, Contexts. London: Anthem.
Bashir, Siham. 2018. “Aurat March 2018 - the Rise of Sisterhood.” The Express Tribune. March 12.
BBC News. 2018. “Imran Khan: From Cricket Hero to Pakistani PM.” August 6.
Bennett, W. Lance. 2012. “The Personalization of Politics.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 644(1): 2039.
Bennett, W. Lance and Segerberg, Alexandra. 2012. “The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics.” Information, Communication & Society 15(5): 739–68.
Boone, Jon. 2016. “Pakistani Model Qandeel Baloch Allegedly Killed by Brother.” The Guardian, July 16.
Boone, Jon. 2017. “‘She Feared No One’: The Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch.” The Guardian, September 22.
Bynon, Daffydd. 2015. “Cricket World Cup: India v Pakistan Watched by a Billion People—in Pictures.” The Guardian, February 15. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
Cashmore, Ellis. 2012. Beyond Black: Celebrity and Race in Obama’s America. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Chadwick, Andrew. 2010. Internet Politics: States, Citizens, and New Communication Technologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Davis, Nira Yuval. 1997. Gender and Nation. Los Angeles: Sage.
Digital Rights Foundation. 2017. “December 2017: One Year of the Cyber Harassment Helpline Countering Online Violence.” One Year Report. Lahore, Pakistan: Digital Rights Foundation.
Dunya News. 2016a. “Qandeel Baloch Getting Ready to Propose Imran Khan in Front of Jalsa.” YouTube, May 1.
Dunya News. 2016b. “Qandeel Murder Case: Police Drafts Investigative Questionnaire for Mufti Abdul Qavi–Pakistan–Dunya News.”, July 27.
Dunya News. 2016c. “Breaking News: Complete Video of Qandeel Baloch with Mufti Abdul Qavi.” YouTube. Dunya News, June 21.
Express Tribune. 2012. “PEMRA Statement: Freedom of Expression Should Not Harm State Institutions.” November 14.
Fraser, Nancy. 1990. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text, 25/26: 5680.
Habermas, Jürgen. 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: an Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Trans. Burger, Thomas and Lawrence, Frederick. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Hanif, Mohammed and Zaidi, Hasan. 2018. “The Importance of Being Asma.” February 18.
Haq, Irfan Ul. 2016. “I’ll Appear on Big Boss If They Agree to My Terms, Says Qandeel Baloch.” Images. Dawn News. June 1.
Hartley, John. 2002. Uses of Television. Florence: Taylor and Francis.
Hartley, John. 2008. Television Truths: Forms of Knowledge in Popular Culture. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Hawkesworth, Mary. 2012. Political Worlds of Women: Activism, Advocacy, and Governance in the Twenty-First Century. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Hintz, Arne, Dencik, Lina, and Wahl-Jorgensen, Karin. 2017. “Digital Citizenship and Surveillance: Introduction.” International Journal of Communication. 11: 731–39.
Hindustan Times. 2016. “Qandeel Baloch: Pak Model to Strip If Team Win WT20 Match against India.” March 18.
Hughes, Laura. 2016. “Theresa May Says There Is ‘No Honour’ in so-Called Honour Killings.” The Telegraph, July 20.
Hussain, Osman. 2017. “Pakistan Is One of Asia’s Fastest-Growing Internet Markets.” Tech in Asia. February 9.
India News 24x7. 2016. “Qandeel Baloch Threats Narendra Modi.” YouTube. February 22.
Jackson, Sarah J. 2014. Black Celebrity, Racial Politics, and the Press: Framing Dissent. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Jafar, Afshan. 2005. “Women, Islam, and the State in Pakistan.” Gender Issues 22(1): 3555.
Jenkins, Joseph Craig and Klandermans, Bert. 1995. The Politics of Social Protest: Comparative Perspectives on States and Social Movements. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Karpf, David. 2010. “Online Political Mobilization from the Advocacy Groups Perspective: Looking Beyond Clicktivism.” Policy & Internet 2(4): 741.
Khan, Shaharyar M. 2013. Cricket Cauldron: the Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan. London: Tauris.
Khilji, Usama. 2018. “Pakistan’s Pashtuns March for Justice.” GCC News Al Jazeera, February 24.
Loader, Brian and Mercea, Dan. 2011. “Networking Democracy? Social Media Innovations in Participatory Politics.” Information, Communication, & Society 14(6): 757–69.
Marshall, P. David. 2014. Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Maher, Sanam. 2018. The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch. New Delhi: Aleph Book Company.
Masood, Salman. 2016. “Qandeel Baloch, Pakistani Social Media Celebrity, Dead in Apparent Honor Killing.” New York Times. July 17.
Masood, Salman. 2018. “Top Pakistani News Channel Is Forced Off Air, and Eyes Are on the Military.” The New York Times. April 6.
Mills, C. Wright. 1956. The Power Elite. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mitchell, Travis. 2017. “Social Networking Popular among Adult Internet Users in Emerging and Developing Nations.” Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. January 12.
Moini, Muna. 2016. “Qandeel Baloch & Aryan Khan’s New Music Video Titled Ban Released!VeryFilmi. August 20.
Monzani, Caterina, Phillips, Charlie, Poulton, Lindsay, Khan, Saad, and Bari, Tazeen. 2017. “Qandeel Baloch: The Life, Death and Impact of Pakistan’s Working Class Icon.” The Guardian, September 22.
Mohsin, Moni. 2018. “An Indomitable Will—Why Asma Jahangir Was Pakistan’s Social Conscience.” The Guardian, February 12.
Mumtaz, Khawar and Shaheed, Farida. 1987. Women of Pakistan Two Steps Forward, One Step Back? London: Zed Books.
Murthy, Dhiraj and Longwell, Scott A.. 2013. “Twitter and Disasters: The Uses of Twitter during the 2010 Pakistan Floods.” Information, Communication & Society 16(6): 837–55.
Nauman, Qasim. 2016. “Pakistan Closes ‘Honor Killing’ Loophole After Qandeel Baloch Case.” The Wall Street Journal, October 6.
Nawab, Zehra and Chaudhry, Fareedullah. 2017. “Qandeel Baloch: Exposing Patriarchy in Death.” Herald Magazine. July 24.
Neo TV Network. 2016. “Qandeel Baloch Crying for Imran Khan PTI Lahore Jalsa 1 May 2016.” YouTube, May 1.
Norris, Pippa. 2001. Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Norris, Pippa. 2007. “Political activism: New challenges, new opportunities.” The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics. eds. Boix, Carles and Stokes, Susan C., 628649. New York: Oxford University Press.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, comp. 2014. Social Institutions & Gender Index Report: Pakistan. Report. Paris: OECD.
Ousmanova, Almira. 2008. “Media and the Post-Public Sphere.” Summer Seminar on the Politics of Belonging: Democracy, Identity, Power, Central European University, Budapest, July 4, 2008.
Perry, Juliet and Saifi, Sophia. 2016. “Pakistan ‘Honor’ Killing Suspect Charged with State Crime.” CNN, July 20.
Qarni, Owais. 2017. “Qandeel Baloch Is a Martyr and so Are Other Honour-Killing Victims: Mufti Qavi.” The Express Tribune. July 20.
Rainie, Lee, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Aaron Smith, Brady, Henry, and Verba, Sidney. 2012. Social Media and Political Engagement. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Rajput, Hamzah. 2015. “Qandeel Baloch Proposing Imran Khan.” YouTube, November 29.
Ratto, Matt and Boler, Megan. 2014. DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Ribke, Nahuel. 2015. A Genre Approach to Celebrity Politics: Global Patterns of Passage from Media to Politics. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Saeed, Maimoona. 2017. “Qavi Admits Cousin Drove, Owned Car Used in Qandeel Murder.” Opinion—, November 1.
Samaa, Digital. 2016. “Qandeel Baloch Selfies with Mufti Qavi Go Viral.” Samaa TV, June 21.
Scott, James. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Shahid, Kunwar Khuldune. 2018. “Why Cricket Is Integral To Redefining Pakistani Nationalism.” HuffPost India, September 24.
Shams, Shamil. 2017. “Malala Yousafzai Joins Twitter to Global Fanfare and Pakistan Censure.” DW.COM, July 8.
Talib, Saman. 2011. “Pakistani Students’ Uses of New Media to Construct a Narrative of Dissent.” South Asian Media Cultures: Audiences, Representations, Contexts. ed. Banaji, Shakuntala, 221234. London: Anthem Press.
Tarrow, Sidney. 2005. The New Transnational Activism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
‘t Hart, Paul and Tindall, Karen. 2009. “Leadership by the Famous: Celebrity as Political Capital.” In Dispersed Democratic Leadership: Origins, Dynamics and Implications. eds. Kane, John, Patapan, Haig, and ‘t Hart, Paul, 255278. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tsaliki, Liza, Frangonikolopoulos, Christos A., and Huliaras, Asteris, eds. 2013. Transnational Celebrity Activism in Global Politics: Changing the World? Bristol, UK: Intellect Books.
Turner, Graeme. 2013. Understanding Celebrity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Van Dijk, Teun A. 1993. “Principles of Critical Discourse Analysis.” Discourse & Society 4(2): 249–83.
Van Zoonen, Liesbet. 2005. Entertaining the Citizen: When Politics and Popular Culture Converge. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
Visweswaran, Kamala. 2004. “Gendered States: Rethinking Culture as a Site of South Asian Human Rights Work.” Human Rights Quarterly 26(2): 483511.
West, Darrell M. and Orman, John M.. 2003. Celebrity Politics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Wheeler, Mark. 2013. Celebrity Politics. London: Polity.
Wood, Matthew, Corbett, Jack, and Flinders, Matthew. 2016. “Just like Us: Everyday Celebrity Politicians and the Pursuit of Popularity in an Age of Anti-Politics.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations 18(3): 581–98.
Zaman, Qamar. 2016. “‘Controversial’ Video: Cleric Pays Price for Selfies with Facebook Celebrity.” The Express Tribune. June 23.
Zia, Afiya S. 2012. “Social Media Politics in Pakistan.” Economic and Political Weekly 47(7): 1618.
Zubair, Hamna. 2016. “Qandeel Baloch Is Dead Because We Hate Women Who Don’t Conform.” Dawn News. July 16.
Zubair, Hamna. 2017. “How Comparing Qandeel Baloch to Kim Kardashian West Exposed a Crisis of Feminism in Pakistan.” Vogue, May 26.

Do-it-Yourself Activism in Pakistan: The Fatal Celebrity of Qandeel Baloch

  • Zainab B. Alam
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

A correction has been issued for this article: