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‘We are all sondukarar (relatives)!’: kinship and its morality in an urban industry of Tamilnadu, South India

  • GEERT DE NEVE (a1)


This article is concerned with the role of kinship and kin morality in contexts of work in South Asia. It focuses on the highly ambivalent nature of kin morality when mobilised outside the household and the family. Ethnographic evidence from a small-scale industry in Tamilnadu, South India, shows how employers frequently invoke the morality of kinship and caste in an attempt to secure a reliable and compliant labour force and to avoid overt class confrontation. However, employers’ efforts to promote kinship—real or fictive—and its morality in the workplace appear inadequate in the face of high labour turnover and frequently collapsing employer-worker relationships in small-scale industries. While employers’ repeated use of kin ideology succeeds in silencing the workers on the shop floor, it is much less effective in securing a stable labour force in the long run. The argument put forward here points to the limits of kin morality and questions its effectiveness in informal contexts of labour employment. The discussion sheds new light on the role of caste and kinship in recruiting, retaining and disciplining labour in India's informal economy.



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