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Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on India's Working Classes


With reference to original ethnographic and historical research on India, the papers collected in this forum suggest conceptual refinements that might re-centre the study of class in regional scholarship. Through discussions of class politics in industrial, construction and agricultural contexts, the authors interrogate the conceptual oppositions between stably employed fordist labour forces and the ‘working poor’ that have often constrained ethnographic and historical analyses of India's working classes. Inspired by Marxist historiography, this forum engages with the historically contingent emergence of Indian working classes through different types of labour, gender and ethnic struggles, and considers the complex political boundaries that are produced by such processes.

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1 Brosius, C. (2009). ‘The gated romance of ‘India shining’: visualising urban lifestyle in images of residential housing development’, in: Gokulsing, M. and Dissanayake, W. (eds), Popular Culture in a Globalised India: A Reader, Routledge, London, pp. 174191; Waldrop, A. (2004). Gating and class relations: the case of a New Delhi colony, City and Society 16 (2): 93116.

2 Brosius, C. (2010). India's Middle Class: New Forms of Urban Leisure, Consumption and Prosperity, Routledge, London; Donner, H. (ed.). 2011. Being middle class in India. A way of life, Routledge, London; Fernandes, L. (2006). India's New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis; Gupta, D. (2000). Mistaken Modernity: India between Worlds, HarperCollins, New Delhi; Lukose, R. (2009). Liberalization's Children: Gender, Youth and Consumer Citizenship in Globalizing India, Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina; Rajagopal, A. (2001). ‘Thinking about the new Indian middle classes: gender, advertising and politics in an age of globalisation’. In: Rajan, R. (ed.) Signposts: Gender Issues in Post-Independence India, Kali for Women, New Delhi, pp. 57100; Sridharan, E. (2004). The growth and sectoral composition of India's middle class: its impact on the politics of economic liberalization, India Review 3 (4): 405428; Thapan, M. (2004). Embodiment and identity in contemporary society: femina and the new Indian middle-class woman, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 30 (3): 411444.

3 Aiyer, A. (2007). The allure of the transnational: notes on some aspects of the political economy of water in India, Cultural Anthropology 22 (4): 640658; Banerjee, A. (2009). Peasant classes under neoliberalism: a class analysis of two states, Economic and Political Weekly 44 (15): 4957; Bijoy, C. R. and Ravi Raman, K. (2003). Muthanga: the real story—Adivasi movement to recover land, Economic and Political Weekly 38 (20): 19751982; Deshpande, R. S. (2002). Suicide by farmers in Karnataka: agrarian distress and possible alleviatory steps, Economic and Political Weekly 37 (26): 26012610; Ghosh, K. (2006). Between global flows and local dams: indigenousness, locality and the transitional sphere in Jharkhand India, Cultural Anthropology 21: 501534; Halliburton, M. (1998). Suicide: a paradox of development in Kerala, Economic and Political Weekly 33 (36–37): 23412345; Mishra, S. (2006). Farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra, Economic and Political Weekly 41 (16):15381545; Mohanakumar, S. and Sharma, R. K. (2006). Analysis of farmer suicides in Kerala, Economic and Political Weekly 41 (16): 15531558; Mohanty, B. B. (2005). ‘We are like the living dead’: farmer suicides in Maharashtra, Western India, Journal of Peasant Studies 32 (2): 243276; Ravi Raman, K. (2005). Corporate violence, legal nuances and political ecology: the cola war in Plachimada, Economic and Political Weekly 40 (25): 24812483; Stone, G. D. (2007). Agricultural deskilling and the spread of genetically modified cotton in Warangal, Current Anthropology 48 (1): 67103.

4 Evans, G. (2006). Educational Failure and Working Class White Children in Britain, Palgrave Macmillan, London; Evans, G. (2012). ‘The aboriginal people of England’: The culture of class politics in contemporary Britain, Focaal, Volume 2012, Number 62, pp. 1729; Wacquant, L. J. D. (2008). Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality, Polity, Cambridge; Malden, Massachusetts,.

5 Carrier, J. (2012). The Trouble with Class, European Journal of Sociology, 53: 263284.

6 Gregory, C. (1997). Savage Money. The Anthropology and Politics of Commodity Exchange, Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam, pp. 140.

7 Chibber, V. (2006). On the Decline of Class Analysis in South Asian Studies, Critical Asian Studies 38 (4): 357387.

8 Bloch, M. (1975). ‘Property and the end of affinity’, in Bloch, M. (ed.), Marxist Analyses and Social Anthropology, Malaby, London, pp. 203228; Comaroff, J. and Comaroff, J. (1991). Of Revelation and Revolution Vol I: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa, University of Chicago Press, Chicago; Comaroff, J. and Comaroff, J. (1997). Of Revelation and Revolution Vol II: The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier, University of Chicago Press, Chicago; Gill, L. (1994). Precarious Dependencies: Gender, Class, and Domestic Service in Bolivia, Columbia University Press, New York; Harris, O. (1995). ‘Ethnic Identity and Market Relations: Indians and Mestizos in the Andes’ in Larson, B. and Harris, O. (eds), Ethnicity, Markets and Migration in the Andes: At the Crossroads of History and Anthropology, Duke, Durham North Carolina, pp. 351390; James, C. L. R. (1980). The Black Jacobins, Allison and Busby, London; Meillassoux, C. (1981). Maidens, Meal and Money: Capitalism and the Domestic Economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; Nash, J. (1979). We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat US, Colombia University Press, New York; Rodney, W. (1969). Groundings With My Brothers, Bogle-L'Ouverture, London; Scheper-Hughes, N. (1993). Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, University of California Press, Berkeley; Seddon, D. (1978). Relations of Production: Marxist Approaches to Economic Anthropology, Frank Cass, London; Stephen, L. (2002). Zapata Lives! Histories and Cultural Politics in Southern Mexico, University of California Press, Berkeley; Taussig, M. (1980). The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America, University of North Caroline Press, Chapel Hill.

9 Andre Beteille's classic essays on class and Jan Breman's work on agrarian relations stand out in Indian sociology of this period. See Beteille, A. (1979). Homo Hierarchicus, Homo Equalis, Modern Asian Studies 13 (4): 529548; Breman, J. (1974). Patronage and Exploitation: Changing Agrarian Relations in South Gujarat, India, University of California Press, Berkeley.

10 Arnold, D. (1980). Industrial Violence in Colonial India, Comparative studies in Society and History, 22, 2, pp. 234255; Chakrabarty, D. (1981). Communal Riots and Labour: Bengal's Jute Mill-Hands in the 1890s, Past and Present, 91: 140169; Chakrabarty, D. (1983). On Deifying and Defying Authority: Managers and Workers in the Jute Mills of Bengal circa 1890–1940, Past and Present, 100: 124146; Chakrabarty, D. (1989). Rethinking Working-class history: Bengal 1890–1940, Princeton, Princeton New Jersey; Ramaswamy, E. A. (1983). The Indian Management Dilemma: Economic vs Political Unions, Asian Survey, 23, 8, 976990; Ramaswamy, E. A. (1988). Worker Consciousness and Trade Union Response, Oxford, New Delhi.

11 See Chandavarkar, R. (1997). ‘The Making of the Working Class’: E. P. Thompson and Indian History, History Workshop Journal 43: 177196. Notable exceptions during this period include Holmström's monograph on South Indian industrial labour, John Harriss’ analysis of the relationship between the urban labour aristocracy and working poor, and Jan Breman's study of rural labour migration in Gujarat. See: Breman, J. (1985). Of peasants, migrants, and paupers: rural labour circulation and capitalist production in west India, Oxford University Press; Holmström, M. (1984). Industry and Inequality. The social anthropology of Indian labour, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; Harriss, J. (1986). The Working Poor and the Labour Aristocracy in a South Indian City: A Descriptive and Analytical Account, Modern Asian Studies, 20, 2, 231283.

12 Thompson, E. P. (1966 [1963]). The Making of the English Working Class, Vintage Books, New York.

13 See Guha, R. (1982). On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India. In Guha, R. (ed.), Subaltern Studies I,Oxford University Press, Delhi, pp. 18.

14 Thompson, E. P. (1978). Eighteenth-Century English Society: Class Struggle without Class? Social History 3 (2): 133165. See Sanchez and Strümpell, this Issue.

15 See Arnold, Industrial Violence in Colonial India; Chakrabarty, Communal Riots and Labour, On Deifying and Defying Authority; Guha, R. (1999 [1983]). Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Duke University Press, Durham North Carolina, p. 76.

16 Guha, On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India, p. 6.

17 Arnold, Industrial Violence in Colonial India; Chakrabarty, Communal Riots and Labour.

18 Chakrabarty, On Deifying and Defying Authority.

19 Chandavarkar, ‘The Making of the Working Class’.

20 Ibid: p. 179. And See Chandavarkar, R. (1994). The origins of industrial capitalism in India. Business strategies and the working classes in Bombay, 1900–1940, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

21 Chibber, On the Decline of Class Analysis in South Asian Studies; Sarkar, S. (2000 [1994]). ‘Orientalism Revisited: Saidian Frameworks in the Writings of Modern Indian History’, in Chaturvedi, V. (ed.), Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial, Verso Books, London; New York, pp. 239255.

22 Cf. Sen, S. (1999). Women and Labour in Late Colonial India. The Bengal Jute Industry, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; Joshi, C. (2003). Lost Worlds. Indian Labour and its Forgotten Histories, Permanent Black, Delhi.

23 Chandavarkar, ‘The Making of the Working Class’, p. 191.

24 Corbridge, S. and Harriss, J. (2000). Reinventing India: Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy, Polity Press, Cambridge; Harriss-White, B. (2003). India Working: Essays on Society and Economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

25 Sanyal, K. (2007). Rethinking Capitalist Development: Primitive Accumulation, Governmentality and Post-colonial Capitalism, Routledge, New Delhi, Chatterjee, P. (2004). The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Political Society in Most of the World, Columbia University Press, New York.

26 Gooptu, N. (2001). The Politics of the Urban Poor in Early Twentieth-Century India, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York; Joshi, Lost Worlds. Indian Labour and its Forgotten Histories.

27 Breman, J. (1996). Footloose labour: working in India's informal economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; Breman, J. (2004). The making and unmaking of an industrial working class: sliding down the labour hierarchy in Ahmedabad, India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi; Chari, S. (2004). Fraternal Capital: Peasant Workers, Self-Made Men, and Globalization in Provincial India, Stanford, Stanford California; Cross, J. (2010). Neoliberalism as unexceptional: economic zones and the everyday precariousness of working life in south India, Critique of Anthropology 30 (4): 355373; De Neve, G. (2005). The Everyday Politics of Labour. Working Lives in India's Informal Economy, Social Science Press, Delhi; Fernandes, L. (1997). Producing Workers: The Politics of Gender, Class and Culture in the Calcutta Jute Mills. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia; Harriss-White, B. (2003). India Working: Essays on Society and Economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; Heuze, G. (1996). Workers of another world: Miners, the countryside and coalfields in Dhanbad, Oxford University Press, Delhi; Nadeem, S. (2011). Dead Ringers: How Outsourcing is Changing the Way Indians Understand Themselves, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey; Nisbett, N. (2009). Growing up in the Knowledge Society: Living the IT Dream in Bangalore, Routledge, London; Parry, J. P. (2013). ‘The Embourgeoisement of a Proletarian Vanguard?’ in Jodhka, S. (ed.), Interrogating India's Modernity: Democracy, Identity and Citizenship, Oxford University Press, Delhi.

28 Cf. Sanchez, A. (2012). Deadwood and Paternalism: Rationalising Casual Labour in an Indian Company Town’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18: 808827; Questioning Success: Dispossession and the Criminal Entrepreneur in Urban India, Critique of Anthropology 32.4: 435–457.

29 Carbonella, A. and Kasmir, S. (2008). Dispossession and the anthropology of labor, Critique of Anthropology 28 (1): 525; Freeman, C. (1998). Femininity and flexible labor: fashioning class through gender on the global assembly line, Critique of Anthropology 18 (3): 245263; Genda, Y. (2005). A Nagging Sense of Job Insecurity: The New Reality Facing Japanese Youth, International House of Japan, Tokyo; Harvey, D. (1987). Flexible accumulation through urbanization: reflections on ‘post-modernism’ in the American city, Antipode 19 (3): 260286; Harvey, D. (2003). The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, Oxford; Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford; Kasmir, S. (1999). The Mondragon model as post-Fordist discourse: considerations on the production of post-Fordism, Critique of Anthropology 19 (4): 379401; Kosugi, R. (2008). Escape from Work: Freelancing Youth and the Challenge to Corporate Japan, trans. Mouer, R., Trans Pacific Press, Melbourne; Mathur, C. (1998). Transformation as usual? The meanings of a changing labour process for Indiana aluminium workers, Critique of Anthropology 18 (3): 263277; Wilson, A. (1999). The empire of direct sales and the making of Thai entrepreneurs, Critique of Anthropology 19 (4): 401423.

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