UW News

November 30, 2017

Explore India’s ‘informal economies’ at symposium Dec. 1-2

UW News

The labor of India’s lower castes — in areas such as agriculture, transportation, construction and the sex trade — occupies about 90 percent of the country’s workforce. Many of these urban jobs draw workers from rural villages, people who struggle to make a living not only for themselves, but also for the relatives they’ve left behind.

But what of the day-to-day experiences, the families, the hopes and goals of these millions of laborers?

A workshop Dec. 1 and 2 at the University of Washington Communications Building will explore the lives of the people who toil in these often overlooked yet ubiquitous trades. Poetics of Subaltern Life-Worlds: New Research, New Imaginaries of Informal Economies in Contemporary India is co-sponsored by the Simpson Center, the UW Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and the South Asia Center of the Jackson School of International Studies.

A symposium will examine the lives of workers in India's "informal economies." Here, a woman known as Aunty Mummy is considered a go-to person in her village.

A UW symposium will examine the lives of workers in India’s “informal economies.”Lokesh

The symposium runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, and from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Simpson Center seminar room.

Among the speakers are UW faculty members Priti Ramamurthy, professor of gender, women and sexuality studies and organizer of the symposium; Sunila Kale, chair of the South Asia Studies program in the Jackson School, and others from the departments of anthropology; gender, women and sexuality studies; geography; and urban design and planning.

“There are many people in precarious kinds of employment across the world – the informal economy,” said Ramamurthy, whose research has focused on several South Indian villages over decades. “They have jobs that are insecure, they move through many occupations trying to make a living, and many are migrate from rural to urban areas, or from city to city.”

“Informal economy” jobs, Ramamurthy added, often aren’t regulated, and therefore lack the benefits, support systems or ability to organize that might come from working in, say, a factory or for the government.

The workshop is designed to highlight a more humanistic approach to research – “to recognize how meaningful and poetic their lives are,” Ramamurthy said. Alongside the poverty and violence that often permeate their lives, she explained, people also exhibit pride in the skills they’ve acquired, community spirit, generosity and joy.

At the symposium, scholars from India and from other U.S. universities will speak on four themes, which the workshop program identifies as interiority of selfhood; habitations of time and space; entanglements of production and reproduction; and mutual imprint of the country and the city. Speakers will provide case studies of workers in China, India, South Korea and the United States, and will discuss ways to improve the lives of people in the informal economy.

Such efforts are already underway in Hyderabad, India, Ramamurthy said, where a local organization focuses on creating community spaces – places where people can come together away from work.

“What we hope to get out of it is to brainstorm the political openings for people,” she said. “How can we improve people’s lives? How do we get them the better quality of life that they deserve?”


For more information or to sign up to attend, visit simpsoncenter.org.