Making it work in the informal economy: educated migrants navigating unemployment in Dehradun, north India

Authors: Andrew Deuchar*, University of Melbourne
Topics: Development
Keywords: youth, informal labour, unemployment, India
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Wilson C, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper draws upon ethnographic material gathered during 2016-2017, to analyse how educated yet unemployed youth create work in the private educational sector. It shows how a set of rural migrants who moved to the north Indian city of Dehradun with the intention of securing government jobs, have changed strategy after an extended period of unemployment. Having spent several years acquiring soft skills and competencies necessary for white-collar work, they draw upon these skills to create a new type of work for themselves. They do so by running errands and creating new services for institutions, as well as undertaking administrative duties and teaching classes. I theorise the significance of these strategies by drawing together – and contributing to – two substantive fields of research. First, a vibrant set of studies have demonstrated how young people create a social architecture for surviving unemployment. But these works have tended to focus on poorer youth on the urban periphery and have largely neglected the experiences of degree holders. Second, others have shown how soft skills are increasingly important for understanding the dynamics of workplace restructuring in neoliberal India. But I show how young people are drawing upon skills to create work of their own volition. I argue that the private education sector is not strictly a site where young people are acquiring skills and credentials, but in the absence of more secure opportunities, is emerging as a key economic sector in which they are deploying them.

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