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4. Industrial restructuring, informalization, and their consequences for access to elementary education

The origins of India’s problems in implementing compulsory schooling and the expansion of vocational and adult education are linked to structural changes in its employment market. The liberalization of the employment market and workers’ protection resulted in a dramatic increase in informal, insecure, and mostly short-term jobs. While older industrial areas with developed social and educational facilities declined since the 1980s, very considerable industrial conglomerations and workforces have emerged in new locations. The impact of these changes on educational facilities on the one hand and, on the other, on family finances, opportunities for longer-term planning and investment in the education of children are being investigated in some of the projects of the research group.


Saikat Maitra
Transforming Work: Training Programs and Retail Worker- Identity in Contemporary Kolkata

(Project completed)

My postdoctoral project ethnographically explores how Employee Training Programs (ETPs) are deployed by organized retail and service industries in Kolkata, India as pedagogical sites for fashioning an emergent urban worker-subjectivity amongst underclass urban youth employees. Since the collapse of Kolkata’s industrial bases, entry-level jobs in the rapidly expanding organized retail and service industries offer the best hopes for formal employment for the city’s under-privileged youth populations. Unlike the mechanical/cognitive skills required in industrial factories, service work in spaces such as shopping malls, high-end cafes or multi-cuisine restaurants today increasingly utilize the workers’ generalized social skills. What ETPs strive for is a complete re-making of the worker-subjectivity by inculcating the ideals and practices of global consumerism that the workers are then expected to convey to customers in service spaces. Simultaneously, ETPs seek to erase the visible traces of the workers’ socio-economic vulnerabilities from their bodies, deportments, speech patterns or forms of social interaction.

Drawing on ethnographic research in three organized retail institutions in Kolkata, I suggest that the consumer citizenship norms emphasized by ETPs generate unanticipated frictions between the social realities of urban youth labor and aspirations for consumerism. For workers, low wages, diminishing employment securities or exhausting working conditions rub uneasily against the ‘dream-world’ of commodities and images of the capitalist good-life that ETPs teach them to aspire for. This abiding tension offers me a productive lens to read the uneven assimilation of underclass youth populations in India within networks of global consumerism. My research investigates how corporate institutions like ETPs mobilize a disciplined post-industrial labor by modulating subjective desires and fantasies for consumerist life-styles amongst India’s urban poor. Moreover, I ask what kinds of urban subjectivities are being produced at the fault-lines between pervasive global consumerist cultures and persistent post-colonial conditions of social inequalities in contemporary Indian cities.

Sumeet Mhaskar
Effects of Industrial Decline on Education in Urban India: A Study of Mumbai’s Ex-Millworkers’ Household Decisions on Children’s Schooling, 1980s-Present

(Project completed)

Mumbai city has transformed from an industrial to a service sector economy which requires a workforce with altogether different skills and knowledge. It is against this backdrop this project examines the effect of industrial decline on Mumbai’s ex-millworkers’ children’s educational attainment. It explores children’s schooling decisions since the 1980s and looks at the various factors that affected educational attainment of ex-millworkers’ children. This study begins by analyzing the qualitative and quantitative survey data on the education of ex-millworkers and their children that was collected during my doctoral fieldwork. This project will broadly examine the socio-economic conditions at household level, in the working class neighbourhoods and at the school itself that affected children’s educational attainment in post-industrial Mumbai.