2018 – Labour and Development

The major thread of this 2018 Social Sciences Winter School in Pondicherry (SSWSP) 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; Filmer and 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 inclusion 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.

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