2018 – Plenary sessions

“The Sociology of Labour in India”

By Geert De Neve, Professor, Head of the Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex

This lecture gives an overview of some of the main areas of research in the sociology of labour in contemporary India.  Starting from the relationships implicated in jajmani labour, in the agricultural economy and in bonded labour, the lecture goes on to explore the study of industrial labour in India, focusing on the ways in which labour in factories and workshops has been researched and conceptualised in the sociology, ethnography and history of Indian labour.  It addresses questions of class, consciousness and collective action, as well as the ways in which labour relations and the informality of the economy have been shaped by the nature of industrial capitalism on the subcontinent.  Finally, the lecture introduces some reflections on new and emerging sites of labour -such as SEZs, the IT industry and the service economy – and asks some questions about the labour processes, subjectivities and politics that mark these new sites of employment today.

Selected references

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): 41–48.

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

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

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

Gooptu, Nandini (ed.) 2013. Enterprise Culture in Neoliberal India: Studies in Youth, Class, Work and Media. London: Routledge.

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

“The Emergence of the Informal in Indian Labour: A Historical Perspective”

By Karuna Dietrich Wielenga, Research Associate, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford

Since the eighties the large ‘informal’ economy in India has received considerable attention from academics, particularly in the disciplines of anthropology and economics. The trend of greater informalisation of labour since the libreralisation of the economy beginning in the 1990s has also been a subject of research. However, in most of this work the ‘informal’ sector itself (or the formal-informal divide) is taken as a given. It is considered to be a remnant of the past. As a historian I try to track the emergence of the ‘informal’ sector or the formal/informal divide, rather than take it for granted. The informal sector has been defined in several ways, with the absence of the strate from labour regulation being considered as one of its defining characteristics. Rather, labour in the informal sector is seen to be regulated by social structures such as caste and gender. Far from being absent I argue that the state played a fundamental role in creating the formal-informal dichotomy, especially through the laws it enacted. Most of the laws providing protection for labour emerged in the first half of the twentieth century and were crystalised around the time of independence. Similarly state policies towards different kinds of industries (small scale vs large scale for example) were also formulated in this period. I examine the enactment of a bunch of laws in Madras province in the late 1940s, ostensibly aimed at protecting workers, and their subsequent implementation by the Madras government. The architecture of these laws and the ways in which they were implemented (or not implemented) led to the exclusion of workers from small unorganised industries (such as beedi making, arecanut processing, handloom weaving and tanning) from legal protection. I explore the ramifications of this exclusion, and argue that the formal-informal divide was the outcome of a complex political struggle between employers, workers’ unions and the state during this formative period.

Selected references

Barbara Harriss-White 2003. India Working: Essays on Society and Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jan Breman 1999. “The study of industrial labour in post colonial India – The informal sector: a concluding review” in Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s) 33(1-2).

R. Anderson 1993. “Work Construed: Ideological Origins of Labour Law in British India 10 1918” in Peter Robb (ed), Dalit Movements and the Meanings of Labour in India. Delhi: OUP.

Prabhu Mohapatra 2004. “Regulated Informality: Legal construction of labour relation in colonial India, 1800-1926” in Jan Lucassen and Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (eds.), Workers in the informal sector: Studies in labour history, 1800-2000. Delhi: Macmillan Publishers.

Policy Reforms and Structural Transformation in India: Trends and Emerging Concerns”

Vijayabaskar, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai

A key premise of development economics is the inevitability of structural transformation in the economy if economies/countries are to ‘develop’. The share of agricultural sector, as a source of income and employment, has to necessarily fall if labour productivities and by inference, incomes can increase for a large proportion of the population. This is based on both historical models of transformation that took place in the advanced capitalist economies and theoretical justifications based on such historical evidence. At present however, there is a realisation that most low income or late growing countries have failed to make the transformation despite pursuit of different types of state intervention. India is no exception. Despite registering one of the highest growth rates in the world for close to one and a half decade, the inability to structurally transform is manifesting in the form of ‘jobless growth’. In this talk, I map the extent of structural changes that have taken place in the Indian economy since the economic reforms of the early 1990s. I then map the emerging trends in the Indian labour market across sectors and by quality of employment. In the next segment of the presentation, I engage with the kinds of policy interventions undertaken to address the phenomenon of ‘jobless growth’ and the limits of such intervention based on secondary literature/data and my own fieldwork in the Sriperumbudur region. In the final section, I relate this empirical evidence to emerging global debates on the possibility and desirability of such transformation and new solutions on offer such as the Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Selected References

Chatterjee, P. 2008. “Democracy and Economic Transformation in India”, Economic & Political Weekly 43(16): 53-62.

Dorin, B. 2017. “India and Africa in the Global Agricultural System (1960-2050): Towards a New Sociotechnical Regime?” Economic & Political Weekly 52(25 & 26): 5-13.

Ferguson, J. 2015. “Give a man a fish: Reflections on the new politics of distribution. Duke University Press.

Li, M.T. 2009. Exit from agriculture: a step forward or a step backward for the rural poor?’, The Journal of Peasant Studies 36(3): 629-36.

Vijayabaskar, M. 2017. The Agrarian Question amidst Popular Welfare: Interpreting Tamil Nadu’s Emerging Rural Economy, Economic & Political Weekly 52(46): 67-72.

Gender and Labour: Feminist Debates

By Binitha Thampi, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai

The presentation will focus on select feminist theorisations and conceptualisations in the domain of Gender and Labour.  As an introduction, I will provide the history of feminist movements in the West that articulated and raised the question of invisibility of women in economic production and in the process of development itself. The feminist critique of undervaluing and undercounting of women’s work in the official enumeration exercises, specificities of women’s work in terms of the multiplicity of tasks and intensity of labour time, the interconnections between economically productive and reproductive (social and biological) labour will be discussed. Various methodological approaches evolved to capture these specificities of women’s work will be dealt. I will also discuss the Domestic Labour Debate that intellectually contributed to the question of recognising women’s work. An overview of debates on women’s work in the Indian context will also be provided.

Selected References

Custers, P. 2012. Capital Accumulation and Women’s Labour in Asian Economies. Monthly Review Press.

Elson, D. 1999. “Labour Market as Gendered Institutions: Equality, Efficiency and Empowerment Issues”, World Development 27(3): 611- 627.

Kabeer, N. 1994. Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought. London: New York: Verso.

Swaminathan, P. 2012. Women and Work. New Delhi: Oriented Blackswan Private Limited.

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