Labour and Development


4th Edition  
December 3 – 7, 2018

The major thread of this 2018 Social Sciences Winter School in Pondicherry will be to address societal challenges at the intersection between labour and development.

Only recently, international organisations placed labour in the spotlight of development research and policymaking (UNESCO, 2012; World Development Report 2013; Filmeret Fox, 2014; OECD, 2017). However, it is noteworthy that academic and policy studies over the past decades took little hold of the subject to investigate the multifaceted nature of the link between labour and development, notwithstanding a strong interest around labour-related issues (such as forms of workers organisation, involving strike movements and unions) notably in history under Marxist influence from the 1950-60s onwards (Morris, 1965). A possible explanation for this gap in analytical focus and understanding is likely to be found within former dynamics backed by academic and policymaking discourse on development. For example, following the fast capital accumulation-driven transformation of the Soviet Union from a poor agrarian to an industrialised economy, the 1950s were dominated by logics of development via accumulation-driven growth. Labour was seen as an automatic – and homogeneous – complement to capital in this accumulation process. In other words, labour was considered a peripheral component of the development process.

By the mid-1960s and throughout the 1970s, the persistence of either open unemployment or under-employment and the incidence of working poor even growing in less developed economies were perceived as indicative of an employment crisis due to acute land shortage in ‘overcrowded farming communities’ and an acute job shortage in ‘overcrowded urban communities’ (Singer, 1970). As a result, the decade saw fundamental developments in academics’ efforts to understand labour market duality from both economic (Harris and Todaro, 1970) and anthropological-cum-sociological perspectives (Hart, 1973). A renewed academic focus on the human input into the development process stimulated an international policy shift in the direction of welfare improvements by investment in health and education. Besides, along the closure of large industries, the late 1980s witnessed a revival in historical studies focusing on the world of work in relation to various themes: cultural and urban-related dimensions, national migration…By the end of the 1990s, when the structural adjustment rhetoric had fizzled out, both national and international policy attention turned towards more holistic approaches to poverty alleviation and redistribution, but it was only recently (in the 2000s) that the virtues of labour for both economic development, poverty alleviation, social emancipation and gender equality came to the fore.

Themes and scientific questionings and approaches to explore the complex relationships between labour and development are now many and call for interdisciplinary thinking. This year, the objectives of the SSWSP are to expose students and young researchers to research frontiers in social sciences on the multifaceted dimensions of labour.

Following the framework of the past editions, the SSWSP will be organised according to three complementary axes:

(a) Plenary sessions at the beginning of the school: three presentations will introduce different thematic and methodological research on labour studies in social sciences.

(b) Three thematic workshops lasting four days: issues related to Labour Dynamics: Conceptual, Methodological Perspectives and Focus on India (workshop 1), Gender and Labour (workshop 2), Labour, Informality and Precarity in India’s New Economy (workshop 3), will be addressed from various cross-cutting angles.

(c) Restitution, discussions, exchanges:participants of each workshop will work on a research designs a group based on the four days of training and make their presentation.

Workshop 1 : Labour Dynamics – Conceptual, Methodological Perspectives and Focus on India


Workshop 1

Labour Dynamics:

Conceptual, Methodological Perspectives and Focus on India


  • Christophe Jalil Nordman

Economist (IRD, French Institute of Pondicherry and DIAL, Puducherry)

Invited Tutors:

  • Senthil Babu

Historian (French Institute of Pondicherry, Puducherry)

  • Sébastien Michiels

Socio-Economist (French Institute of Pondicherry, Puducherry)

  • Laure Pasquier-Doumer

Economist (IRD, DIAL, France)

  • M. Vijayabaskar

Economist (Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai)


Only recently, international organisations placed labour in the spotlight of development research and policymaking (UNESCO, 2012; World Development Report 2013; Filmer et Fox, 2014; OECD, 2017). However, the past decades have not seen massive development of academic and policy studies on the various dimensions of labour. This is mainly due to scarcity of appropriate high-quality employment data in developing countries. Availability of data on employment in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), but also in some South Asian and South-East Asian countries, is particularly poor (Margolis, Newhouse and Weber, 2010). For instance, the annual report on employment produced by the ILO (2010) showed that, for the period 1991-2008, only 11 out of 45 SSA countries, and 16 out of 29 Asian countries, were able to provide statistics on unemployment for at least 3 years, while 16 countries were unable to compile even new employment data for the entire period. Not surprisingly, Labour Force Surveys (LFS) from some of the poorest developing countries were virtually absent, even though these types of surveys already constituted the main source of data for this field of research in the rest of the world.

The scarcity of appropriate representative surveys from developing countries made it difficult for researchers to analyse some of the most interesting and policy-relevant issues that make these countries’ labour starkly different from that in developed countries (Dimova and Nordman, 2014). First, there are institutional issues such as weak labour protection and social security, as well as problematic taxation and its links to corruption, which create a wedge between formal, informal employment and subsequently labour productivity and worker welfare. The informal sector (production and employment that takes place in unincorporated small or unregistered enterprises) represents 50-80 percent of urban employment and informal employment (employment without legal and social protection) is more than half of non-agricultural employment in most developing regions, and even reaches 84 percent of total non-agricultural employment in India (Chen, 2014). Secondly, informal social networks often are the primary source of labour market information and capital for starting up small business and accessing wage jobs. In the absence of formal intermediaries in the labour market, social networks hence become employers’ sole source of information for prospective employees, thereby leading to possible reproduction of the societies’ inequalities and discriminations practices. Thirdly, there are seasonal fluctuations and other peculiarities of the agricultural labour market that make the usual 7-day or yearly reference periods used in Living Standards Measurement Surveys fairly irrelevant. Last, some categories of workers, such as domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers, are often not even identified in labour statistics. In India, domestic workers, home-based workers and street vendors comprise one-third of urban employment (Chen, 2014), while standard statistics ignore the contribution of family workers, who comprise over 25 percent of all self-employed in developing countries (Margolis, 2014).

Analysing Labour Force Surveys (LFS) in developing countries is hence at the core of the analysis of labour in dynamic settings. This workshop will consist of providing the trainees with the essential tool box for working on the various dimensions of labour using LFSs, given official data scarcity and imperfections. The four days training provides knowledge on how to establish a labour profile to monitor labour conditions. This includes: formal presentations of labour transformation and dynamics in India; identifying the population of interest and collecting labour data through a case study in Tamil Nadu; understanding how to manage a survey using the statistical package STATA (including reading and using a LFS questionnaire, understanding the sampling design of the survey), producing and discussing simple labour statistics (in particular knowing which ones could be the most relevant, in particular in India); identifying vulnerable groups of workers using decent work indicators and, finally, performing basic analysis, such as manipulating earnings, decomposing unequal distribution of important indicators, and conducting basic analysis of unemployment.

The training provides knowledge on how to establish a labour profile to monitor labour conditions. This includes: formal presentations of labour transformation and dynamics in India; identifying the population of interest and collecting labour data through a case study in Tamil Nadu; understanding how to manage a survey using the statistical package STATA; producing and discussing simple labour statistics; identifying vulnerable groups of workers using decent work indicators and, finally, performing basic statistical analysis, such as manipulating earnings and conducting basic analysis of labour indicators. The workshop will end with a group work aiming at designing a research project based on the provided material.


Workshop 2 : Gender and Labour

Workshop 2

Gender and Labour


  • Hélène Guétat-Bernard

Socio-economist, Geographer and Sociologist (Head of the Social Sciences Department, French Institute of Pondicherry, India)

Invited tutors:

  • Venkatasubramanian

Sociologist (Social Sciences Department, French Institute of Pondicherry, India)

  • Nalini R

Head Department of Social Work, University of Pondicherry, India

  • Aashita

Political science (Center of Women’s studies, University of Pondicherry, India)

  • Hervé Breton

Science of education (University of Tours, France)

  • Binitha Thampi

Development studies (Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras, India)

  • Kaveri Haritas (to be confirmed)



 This workshop will take a conceptual as well as methodological approach on gender and labour-related issues, based on the contributions of sociology of labour, development studies and socio-economics. It will mobilise both Indian and French theoretical works and examples.

The workshop will begin with an analysis of major debates between India and France led by the sociology of gender within the discipline of sociology of labour. We will study how gender studies have crossed all fields of labour sociology: starting from a redefinition of labour to deconstruct the dichotomy of productive and reproductive/domestic work, the sexual division of labour, the analysis of employment systems and professional hierarchies. From the 1990s, with the consequences of globalisation, new debates arose: regulation of the labour market and evolution of capitalism, new productive models and place of women, feminisation of labour, especially in agriculture, globalised care professions, the Indian paradox of low female labour force because of cultural constraints, labour conditions and informal sector, etc.

The renewal of the definition of labour and its analysis allowed by a gender approach is based on the theoretical challenge of articulating the sociology of both labour and family. The objective will be to understand the link between analysis of production and gender relations within institutions (not only families, but also enterprises, State). How are the labour market mechanisms gendered and how, conversely, does the labour market engage gender? How is gender effective in real work situations? Exploring these questions calls for methods to examine practices and skills: identification of situations, explication of the action, co-analysis of stories… The social and solidarity economy sector, which is theoretically less subject to the requirements of profitability production, potentially constitutes a capacitating environment through the cooperation it promotes, enabling the recognition of collective contributions and to think about experiential learning with a view to develop individual and collective empowerment.

This crossed analysis of gender and labour calls to think about work as relations of not only exploitation but also emancipation. The experience at work opens the question of self-respect, production of one’s experience, in a collective dimension of solidarity and emancipation. That is these dimensions that the social and solidarity economy will question in a feminist approach.  

Across French and Indian examples, we will thus discuss about the place of women and men at work in social and economic organisations, gender divisions at work, job systems organisation to understand how labour is an effective way to understand gender relations.

Workshop 3 : Labour, Informality and Precarity in India’s New Economy

Workshop 3

Labour, Informality and Precarity in India’s New Economy


  • Geert de Neve

Anthropologist (University of Sussex, Brighton)

  • Thanuja Mummidi

Anthropologist (Pondicherry University, Puducherry)

Invited Tutors:

  • Supriya RoyChowdhury

Political science (Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore)

  • Vijay

Economist (Hyderabad Central University, Hyderabad)

  • David Picherit

Anthropologist (LESC-CNRS, Nanterre)

  • Jayaseelan Raj

Anthropologist (Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum)


Across sectors of India’s economy, labour is marked by high levels of informality, insecurity and precariousness.  Labour in Indian agriculture and industry has a long history of informal, casual and irregular employment, as well as of relations of dependency, unfreedom and indebtedness.  The post-liberalisation era has produced a range of transformation in how labour is recruited and employed in the ‘old’ sectors of the economy, while also giving rise to new employment opportunities such as in novel industries, the service economy, information and technology, and domestic work.

This workshop will explore some of the continuities and changes in the ways in which labour is recruited and deployed, and discuss some of the wider transformations in the nature of India’s capitalist economy that have impacted on existing labour relations.  Particular attention will be paid to the continuities and discontinuities over time, in terms of work conditions and labour relations, as well as to the ways in which opportunities and constraints are shaped by caste, gender and other markers of social identity.  Key structural transformations will be considered, such as the enhanced reliance of migrant labour, subcontracting, the increased use of middlemen and brokers, and the informalisation of previously formal modes of employment.   Labour will thus be explored in the context of the changing class and capitalist dynamics that shape employment relations.

In addition, the workshop will also focus on individual experiences of workers across sectors and industries, and the new – neoliberal – subjectivities that are emerging in the context of new employment opportunities, such as in the IT and service sectors. We will consider some of its contradictions and challenges for workers who aspire for security and mobility.  Finally, despite far-reaching changes in labour markets, the increased precariousness of employment and the decline in traditional forms of unionisation, we will explore what spaces for politics are opening up in the process.  We will consider more individualised forms of resistance as well as collective forms of organising and action.

An additional feature of the workshop is what it will reflect on the methodology and ethics of researching informal labour in contemporary India.  We will consider the strengths of empirically grounded and ethnographic approaches, as well as the challenges and limitations that they produce.