Labour Geography and the Urban Question? Informality and Construction work in Delhi

Authors: Debolina Majumder*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Social Geography, Economic Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: labour, informality, urban, Delhi
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 38
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This exploratory paper encourages a conversation between labour geography, urban theory, and Indian historical sociology, by evaluating the ways in which informality in labour relations can serve as a means of analysing the ‘urban’ in and beyond the context of southern megacities. My empirical focus is on productive and reproductive relations in the construction industry in Delhi. As Michelle Buckley (2014; 2012, p. 253) demonstrates, the construction industry is a crucial node in understanding urbanization itself as a process of “commodity production” which is “fundamentally dependent on waged, labouring bodies.” A juxtaposition of the life histories of informally-employed migrant construction workers living in nine tehsils around Delhi alongside archival research on late-colonial and post-independence housing policy, urban planning, and macro-economic and labour policy in India, not only reveals living narratives of internal migration, wage theft, debt, homelessness, and eviction in the megacity, but also speaks more broadly to the ways in which informality in living and working conditions materially coincide within Delhi’s urban fabric. In doing so, I argue that labour geography as an analytical approach which prioritises the study of labour’s relations with an intersecting spatial lattice of state, capital, and “social structures of accumulation” from the ground up, can help us understand the urban through the eyes of its working-class inhabitants as a temporary, contradictory, and non-linear landscape of dispossession, regulation, and the (re)production of labour informality and precarity.

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