New Login   

Complexities of Marginalized Labour

Avinash Kumar

By Jan Breman
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 457, Rs. 995.00


Jan Breman’s scholarship on the rural economy in the Indian subcontinent has remained one of the most significant contributions on the literature in the past several decades. This present attempt by Breman can be described as the summary and briefing of all his ideas emanating through his anthropological research started at the beginning of the 1960s. This becomes more important in the current times as there is a growing interest in the subcontinent to understand the complexities of the informal workforce which, although being estimated by scholars and agencies differently, covers more than 90 per cent of the Indian economy. Using examples from his field-sites in the rural landscapes of Gujarat, (where he has graduated from being a Bhai (brother) to Chacha (uncle) and now grandfather—as one of his economist friends at JNU introduces him), Breman clearly shows the trajectory of the rise of the informal sector in the country and its challenges.   Beginning with the rejection of the dualism theory in the first chapter, Breman clarifies why he has opted for fractured, differentiated and varied models in defining the two sectors—formal and informal—which according to him are interconnected in various ways. He suggests that informality is the product of the brand of unregulated capitalism which Indian politicians and policy makers have welcomed with great enthusiasm. It is a mode of employment resorted to by the capital owners in order to exploit the marginalized labour (by keeping the cost of labour low) in connivance with the state. The ‘new wisdom’ suggesting that ‘redemption of poverty has to be sought by formalizing capital rather than labour’ (p. 5), according to Breman, paved the way for ‘social Darwinism, a situation in which the most vulnerable classes at the bottom of the economy do not stand together but are made to fight each other’ (p. 7).   Breman then goes on to underline some of the major characteristics, challenges and neglected ideas in studies on the informal economy. Rejecting the idea that informali-zation is a recent urban phenomenon, Breman shows how short or prolonged spells of unemployment in the already unsatisfying environment of work available in the lower echelons with no space for labour legislations and increasing flexibilization of the relationship between employers and employees has actually led to a decline in growth rate of wages at both the urban and the rural sites. Refuting the claims of ‘faulty time-thrift’ and non-commitment to ‘...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.