‘Carving out niches’: informality, work and migration in a Muslim craft community of North India

Chambers, Thomas (2015) ‘Carving out niches’: informality, work and migration in a Muslim craft community of North India. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Based on 18 months of fieldwork this thesis focuses on work, life and migration in a Muslim wood crafting community of Saharanpur (North India). Drawing on ethnographic and other material regarding Indian Muslims, artisans, informal economies and ‘informality’ more broadly, the thesis addresses four primary questions: What does it mean to work in an economic space where moves towards labour informality, as played out in post-liberalisation economies globally, have always been the primary means of organisation? Are workers in such spaces better equipped to deal with informality? Where state regulation has always been partial, what regulates everyday economic activity? Are these spaces isolated, in decline and increasingly marginalised, or are they highly connected and central to contemporary capitalism? In this context the thesis follows the lives and stories of craft workers across a variety of ‘niches of production’ which are defined through religious, gender-based and affective factors. The thesis utilises ‘informality’, not just to understand work and conditions of employment, but also networks, connections, niches and spaces of production and exchange. It begins with the history of a community and industry that has been shaped by the colonial experience, the upheavals of partition, political changes and economic liberalisation. The thesis explores the complexities of a supply chain filled with ambiguous actors and the connections and networks within which craft workers operate. It traces the influence of Islam and explores connections of religion and friendship. It follows pathways of migration across the country and to the Gulf. Whilst playing out within a gendered and stratified social fabric within which production is embedded, the long experience of operating under conditions of informality has given workers in Saharanpur certain attributes useful in negotiating the economic terrain. However, it also makes them accepting of these conditions. Connections, built on Muslim and other networks, enables workers to retain a high degree of geographical mobility. Whilst there are very specific constraints emanating from their Muslim identity, these networks create certain possibilities for connecting with other people and places. Carefully cultivated links of community, neighbourhood and friendship provide an important resource through which work can be found and mutual support provided. Yet there is a duality present throughout, with these same networks simultaneously acting as a means of incorporation into chains of supply. Against this complex backdrop the thesis explores the ways in which workers engage with networks, connections, niches and spaces of production and exchange. It considers the constraints and potentialities therein. It makes its original contribution to knowledge on two counts. Firstly, and primarily, it provides an empirical contribution by providing a thickly descriptive account of lives in an industry which has received little ethnographic attention. Secondly, it utilises circulatory understandings of the production of capitalism to show how spaces such as Saharanpur’s wood industry are not marginal but form an important part of the way capitalism works and how such spaces have played a role in shaping global processes of labour force informalisation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BP Islam. Bahaism. Theosophy, etc > BP001 Islam
N Fine Arts > NK Decorative arts > NK3600 Other arts and art industries > NK9600 Woodwork
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2015 10:06
Last Modified: 16 Aug 2017 13:45
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/54470

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