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Poetics of Subaltern Life-Worlds: New Research, New Imaginaries of Informal Economies in Contemporary India

Year of Funding: 
Three females photographed outside an Indian home

Symposium: December 1-2, 2017

Full Schedule

More than ninety percent of India’s workforce finds uncertain livelihoods through informal work: agricultural labor, construction, street vending, transportation, waste picking, sex work, and domestic labor, to name but a few. While the employment challenge—10 million jobs a year—that confronts countries like India is humbling, the existing scholarship in fields like labor studies, urban geography, rural sociology, and feminist studies has been resolutely economistic. With few exceptions, it has had little to say about the experiences, life-making activities (poïesis), and desires of the men and women, many from historically subordinated caste groups, who toil in India’s cities even as they remain enmeshed with ongoing lives in their villages.

This workshop brings together scholars based in the US and India who are engaged in research breaking new ground in how to think about the contours of informal economies in India and beyond. We call for a radically new intellectual approach to the life-worlds of denizens of informal economies: specifically, a humanistic approach that does not take for granted commonly employed dualisms such as formal and informal, urban and rural, and production and reproduction. This discussion-heavy workshop will be organized around four thematic clusters:

  1. Interiority of selfhood
  2. Habitations of time and space
  3. Entanglements of production and reproduction
  4. Mutual imprint of the country and the city

The workshop includes comparative analyses of informality in the US, South Korea, and China. It will conclude with a session on public scholarship and technologies of communication to communicate our research to concerned communities effectively. We plan to publish public-minded online essays after the workshop.

Co-sponsored by the Simpson Center, the South Asia Center and the Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies.


Primary Contacts

Priti Ramamurthy (Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies) 

Vinay Gidwani (College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota)