Workshop 3 : Labour, Informality and Precarity in India’s New Economy (Winter School 2018)

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 Scientist (Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore)
  • Vijay, Economist (Hyderabad Central University, Hyderabad)
  • Jayaseelan Raj, Anthropologist (Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum)

Description and aims of the workshop

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.

Workshop 3 Schedule

9:00-9:30 Opening Speech

Introduction and Objectives of the workshop (M. Thanuja)

Presentation of trainers and participants

9:30-10:45 Employment in the New Services Sector: new Labour? (Supriya RoyChowdhury)
10:45-11:00 Coffee/Tea Break
11:00-12:30 Conceptualising Labour Agency under Neoliberalisation: a view from the Tamil Nadu garment sector (Geert De Neve)
12:30-14:00 Lunch
14:00-15:30 Women and Unions in the Garments Export Sector (Supriya RoyChowdhury)
15:30-15:45 Coffee/Tea break
15:45-17:00 Changing Faces of Labour Brokerage: Dealing with Labour Markets, Brokers’ Subjectivities and Labour Politics
9:00-9:30 Recap- Day 1
9:30-11:00 Migrant Labour and Categories of Identity (Jayaseelan Raj)
11:00-11:15 Coffee/Tea break
11:15-12:30 Investigating Labour Migration in India
12:30-14:00 Lunch
14:00-15:15 Informal Labour, Formal Sectors: Changing Labour Regimes in Plantations (Jayaseelan Raj)
15:15-15:30 Coffee/Tea break
15:30-17:00 Flexibilisation of Labour in the Organised Manufacturing Sector in South India: Implications for labour relations, employment and society (Gudavarthy Vijay)
9:00-10:15 Odisha Migrant Labour in Unorganised Brick Kilns of Telangana: Beyond Unfree Employment and Towards Uncivil Development (Gudavarthy Vijay)
10:15-10:30 Coffee/Tea break
10:30-12:00 Labour, Health and Safety: Reconceptualising workers’ health and wellbeing in South Asia’s garment industry (Geert De Neve)
12:30-14:00 Lunch
14:00-18:00 Preparation of the restitution and project by participants
9:00-11:00 Group work
11:00-11:15 Coffee break
11:15-12:30 Group work
12:30-14:00 Lunch
14:00-15:30 Group work
15:40-15:45 Coffee Break
15:45-18:00 Group work restitution of project

Discussion of the results and the workshops



Readings (*key readings)

Informality and informalisation

*Harriss-White, B. and N. Gooptu. 2001. ‘Mapping India’s World of Unorganized Labour’. In Socialist Register 2001: Working Classes, Global Realities, pp. 89-118. London: Merlin.

*Bhattacharyya, R. and K. Sanyal. 2011. ‘Bypassing the Squalor: New Towns, Immaterial Labour and Exclusion in Post-colonial Urbanisation’. Economic and Political Weekly 46(31), pp. 41-48.

*Sanyal, K. and R. Bhattacharyya. 2009. ‘Beyond the Factory: Globalisation, Informalisation of Production and the New Locations of Labour’. Economic & Political Weekly 44(22), pp. 35-44.

De Neve, Geert. 2019. The Sociology of Labour in India. In: Srivastava, Sanjay, Abraham, Janaki and Arif, Yasmeen (eds.) Critical Themes in Indian Sociology. Delhi: SAGE Publications.

Parry, Jonathan. 2013a. ‘Company and Contract Labour in a Central Indian Steel Plant’. Economy and Society 42(3), pp. 348-74.

De Neve, Geert. 2005. The Everyday Politics of Labour: Working Lives in India’s Informal Economy. New Delhi: Social Science Press and Berghahn.

Liberalisation and globalisation

*Cross, Jamie. 2010. ‘Neoliberalism as Unexceptional: Economic Zones and the Everyday Precariousness of Working Life in South India’. Critique of Anthropology 30(4), pp. 355-73.

*De Neve, Geert and Carswell, Grace M. 2014. T-Shirts and tumblers: caste, dependency and work under neo-liberalisation in South India. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 48(1), pp. 103-131.

De Neve, Geert 2014. Fordism, flexible specialization and CSR: how Indian garment workers critique neoliberal labour regimes. Ethnography, 15(2). pp. 184-207.

*Prentice, R., & De Neve, G. (eds.). 2017. Unmaking the Global Sweatshop: Health and Safety of the World’s Garment Workers. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Vera-Sanso, P. 2012. ‘Gender, Poverty and Old-age Livelihoods in Urban South India in an Era of Globalisation’. Oxford Development Studies 40(3), pp. 324-40.

Li, Tania Murray. 2010. ‘To Make Live or Let Die? Rural Dispossession and the Protection of Surplus Populations’. Antipode 41(s1), pp. 66-93.

Besky, Sarah, 2008, ‘Can a plantation be fair? Paradoxes and possibilities in fair trade Darjeeling tea certification’, Anthropology of Work Review 29(1), pp. 1-9.

Indebtedness and unfreedom

*Breman, Jan and I. Guerin. 2009. ‘Introduction: On Bondage—Old and New’. In India’s Unfree Workforce: Of Bondage Old and New, edited by J. Breman, I. Guerin and A. Prakash, pp. 1-17. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Breman, Jan, I. Guerin and A. Prakash (eds.) 2009. India’s Unfree Workforce: Of Bondage Old and New. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

*Srivastava, Ravi. 2009. ‘Conceptualising Continuity and Change in Emerging Forms of Labour Bondage in India’. In India’s Unfree Workforce: Of Bondage Old and New, edited by J. Breman, I. Guerin and A. Prakash. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 129-46.

*Carswell, G. and G. De Neve. 2013a. ‘From Field to Factory: Tracing Transformations in Bonded Labour in the Tiruppur Region, Tamil Nadu’. Economy and Society 42(3), pp. 430-454.

Guerin, Isabelle. 2013. ‘Bonded Labour, Agrarian Changes and Capitalism: Emerging Patterns in South India’. Journal of Agrarian Change 13(3), pp. 405-23.

*Picherit, David. 2009. ‘“Workers, Trust Us!” Labour Middlemen and the Rise of the Lower Castes in Andhra Pradesh’. In India’s Unfree Workforce: Of Bondage Old and New, edited by J. Breman, I. Guerin and A. Prakash, pp. 259-83. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Rogaly, B. and A. Rafique. 2003. ‘Struggling to Save Cash: Seasonal Migration and Vulnerability in West Bengal, India’. Development and Change 34(4), pp. 659-81.

De Neve, Geert. 1999. ‘Asking for and Giving Baki: Neo-bondage, or the Interplay of Bondage and Resistance in the Tamilnadu Power-loom Industry’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 33(1-2), pp. 379-406.

*Raj, Jayaseelan. 2013. Alienated Enclaves: Economic Crisis and Neo- bondage in a South Indian Plantation Belt, Forum for Development Studies, 40(3), pp. 465-490.

*Raj, Jayaseelan. 2017. ‘The Tea Belts of Western Ghats’. In Shah, A and Lerche, J and Axelby, R and Benbabaali, D. and Donegan, B. and Raj, J. and Thakur, V. Ground Down by Growth: Inequality in 21st Century India. London: Pluto.

Kapadia, Karin. 1995a. ‘The Profitability of Bonded Labour: The Gem-cutting Industry in Rural South India’. The Journal of Peasant Studies 22(3), pp. 446-83.

Mosse, D., S. Gupta, M. Mehta, V. Shah, J.F. Rees and KRIBP Project Team. 2002. ‘Brokered Livelihoods: Debt, Labour Migration and Development in Tribal Western India’. Journal of Development Studies 38(5), pp. 59-88.

Employment in India’s ‘new’ economy

Cross, Jamie. 2009. ‘From Dreams to Discontent: Educated Young Men and the Politics of Work at a Special Economic Zone in Andhra Pradesh’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 43(3), pp. 351-79.

*Gooptu, Nandini. 2013b. ‘Introduction’. In Enterprise Culture in Neoliberal India: Studies in Youth, Class, Work and Media, edited by N. Gooptu, pp. 1-24. London: Routledge.

*Gooptu, Nandini.2009. ‘Neoliberal Subjectivity, Enterprise Culture and New Workplaces: Organised Retail and Shopping Malls in India’. Economic &Political Weekly 44(22), pp. 45-54.

*Gooptu, Nandini. 2013a. ‘Servile Sentinels of the City: Private Security Guards, Organized Informality, and Labour in Interactive Services in Globalized India’. International Review of Social History 58(1), pp. 9-38.

Fuller, C.J. and H. Narasimhan. 2007. ‘Information Technology Professionals and the New-rich Middle Class in Chennai (Madras)’. Modern Asian Studies 41(1), pp. 121-50.

———. 2008. ‘Empowerment and Constraint: Women, Work and the Family in Chennai’s Software Industry’. In In an Outpost of the Global Economy: Work and Workers in India’s Information Technology Industry, edited by C. Upadhya and A.R. Vasavi, pp. 190-210. New Delhi: Routledge.

Upadhya, Carol. 2011. ‘Software and the “New” Middle Class in the “New India”’. In Elite and Everyman: The Cultural Politics of the Indian Middle Classes, edited by A. Baviskar and R. Ray, pp. 167-92. New Delhi: Routledge.

———. 2016. Reengineering India: Work, Capital and Class in an Offshore Economy. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

*Upadhya, Carol and A.R. Vasavi. 2008. ‘Outposts of the Global Information Economy: Work and Workers in India’s Outsourcing Industry’. In In an Outpost of the Global Economy: Work and Workers in India’s Information Technology Industry, edited by C. Upadhya and A.R. Vasavi pp. 9-49. New Delhi: Routledge.

Mukherjee, Sanjukta. 2008. ‘Producing the Knowledge Professional: Gendered Geographies of Alienation in India’s New High-tech Workplace’. In In an Outpost of the Global Economy: Work and Workers in India’s Information Technology Industry, edited by C. Upadhya and A.R. Vasavi, pp. 50-75. New Delhi: Routledge.

*Barua, P., Haukanes, H. and Waldrop, A. 2016. Maid in India: Negotiating and Contesting the Boundaries of Domestic Work. Forum for Development Studies 43(3), pp. 415-436.

DOI: 10.1080/08039410.2016.1199444

Labour politics: class, consciousness and collective action

Lerche, J., 2009. From ‘rural labour’ to ‘classes of labour’: class fragmentation, caste and class struggle at the bottom of the Indian labour hierarchy. In The Comparative Political Economy of Development, pp. 90-111. Routledge.

*RoyChowdhury, Supriya. 2003. ‘Old Classes and New Spaces: Urban Poverty, Unorganised Labour and New Unions’. Economic & Political Weekly 38(50), pp. 5277-84.

*RoyChowdhury, S. 2014. Bringing class back in: Informality in Bangalore. Socialist Register51(51).

*Carswell, G., & De Neve, G. 2013. Labouring for global markets: Conceptualising labour agency in global production networks. Geoforum44, pp. 62-70.

*Vijayabaskar, M., 2017. State spatial restructuring, subnational politics and emerging spaces of engagement for collective action: Labour regimes in Tamil Nadu, southern India. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space35(1), pp. 42-56.

Barua, P., and Haukanes, H. (forthcoming). Organising for Empowerment: Exploring the Impact of Unionization on Domestic Workers in India. Journal of Contemporary Asia.

Pattenden, J. 2016. Working at the margins of global production networks: local labour control regimes and rural-based labourers in South India, Third World Quarterly, 37:10, 1809-1833, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2016.1191939

Kapadia, Karin. 1999. ‘Gender Ideologies and the Formation of Rural Industrial Classes in South India Today’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 33(1-2), pp. 329-52.

Carswell, G. 2016. ‘Struggles over Work Take Place at Home: Women’s Decisions, Choices and Constraints in the Tiruppur Textile Industry, India’. Geoforum 77, pp. 134-45

De Neve, G., 2008. Global garment chains, local labour activism: New challenges to trade union and NGO activism in the Tiruppur garment cluster, South India. In Hidden Hands in the Market: Ethnographies of Fair Trade, Ethical Consumption, and Corporate Social Responsibility, pp. 213-240. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Labour Migration and Brokerage

Breman, J. 1996. Footloose Labour. Working in India’s Informal Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gidwani, V. and Sivaramakrishnan, K. 2003. ‘Circular Migration and Rural Cosmopolitanism in India’, Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s.) 37(1-2), pp. 339-367.

Deshingkar, Priya and Farrington, John. 2009. Circular migration and multi locational livelihoods strategies in rural India. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Srivastava, R., & Sutradhar, R. 2016. Labour Migration to the Construction Sector in India and its Impact on Rural Poverty. Indian Journal of Human Development10(1), pp. 27-48.

*Picherit, David. 2012. “Migrant Labourers’ Struggles Between Village and Urban Migration Sites: Labour Standards, Rural Development and Politics in South India,” Global Labour Journal  3: Iss.1, pp. 143-162.

*Picherit, D. 2018. Labour Migration Brokerage and Dalit Politics in Andhra Pradesh: a Dalit Fabric of Labour Circulation, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Lindquist, J., Xiang, B., & Yeoh, B. S. 2012. Opening the black box of migration: Brokers, the organization of transnational mobility and the changing political economy in Asia. Pacific Affairs  85(1), pp. 7-19.

*De Neve, Geert. 2014. “Entrapped Entrepreneurship Labour Contractors in the South Indian Garment Industry.” Modern Asian Studies 48(5), pp. 1302-1333.

Roy, T. 2008. Sardars, Jobbers, Kanganies: The Labour Contractor and Indian Economic History. Modern Asian Studies, 42:5, pp. 971-998.

Cite this blog post
Christophe Jalil Nordman (2018, September 18). Workshop 3 : Labour, Informality and Precarity in India’s New Economy (Winter School 2018). SOCIAL SCIENCES WINTER SCHOOLS IN SOUTH ASIA. Retrieved April 22, 2024, from

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search