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 –TBC

Anthropologist (LESC-CNRS, Nanterre)

  • TBC


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.

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