Lockdown and livelihoods in rural South India: rethinking patronage at the time of Covid-19

De Neve, Geert, Carswell, Grace, Subramanyam, Nidhi and Yuvaraj, S Lockdown and livelihoods in rural South India: rethinking patronage at the time of Covid-19. In: Abram, Simone, Lambert, Helen and Robinson, Jude (eds.) How to live through a pandemic? Routledge, Abingdon. (Accepted)

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What happened to patronage during the Covid-19 crisis in India? Drawing on ethnography collected during the lockdown in India, we explore how the pandemic inflicted a crisis of care on the informally employed working poor in rural Tamil Nadu. Let down by the state, jobless workers appealed to their employers for support but eventually had to rely on their own kin for survival. We make three arguments. First, the Covid-19 crisis revealed how under neoliberal capitalist employment regimes, patronage turns out to be distinctly instrumental rather than being part of a moral economy of exchange. Acts of patronage were not only very limited but also highly unevenly distributed, with some sections of the labour force more easily abandoned than others. Second, employers mobilised a range of strategies, including debt bondage, to retain control over labour during lockdown. Finally, by externalising the costs of social reproduction to workers’ own households, capitalist employers used the lockdown to further intensify exploitation. Employers’ instrumental patronage and their refusal to share the cost of social reproduction during the crisis thus produced a hierarchy of labour exploitation in India’s informal economy, with low caste and migration labour most blatantly exploited.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
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SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2022 10:31
Last Modified: 25 May 2022 11:25
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/104960

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