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Title: The architecture of production and labour control in the Indian garment industry : informalisation and upgrading in the global economy
Author: Mezzadri, Alessandra
ISNI:       0000 0004 2697 1948
Awarding Body: School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2009
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This thesis explores how production and labour structures in developing regions are deployed within globalised production systems. Its broad aim is to show that, in the age of neoliberal globalisation, labour is not the 'natural' comparative advantage of developing economies. On the contrary, this study shows that its subjugation to the global capitalist logic takes place within a complex architecture of production, which is characterised by no less complex patterns of labour control. It further shows that these patterns of control increasingly rely on informal structures and mechanisms, and on what is now known as the process of 'informalisation' of labour. Crucial to realise labour subjugation, this process is a fundamental component of upgrading into the global economy for local exporters in developing regions. Inspired by insights coming from the international political economy, this thesis argues that this process of informalisation can be conceptualised as the ultimate manifestation of the convergence of different 'labourunfriendly regimes' (see Silver and Arrighi, 2000) working at multiple levels and scales. These regimes aim at 'disengaging' with labour, preventing the formation of an 'industrial citizenship' (see Standing, 2007). This argument is applied to the case of the Indian export-oriented garment sector, which is indeed characterised by a very complex architecture of production, where different industrial trajectories are today subsumed into the global economy, and where, according to sectoral aggregate data (see Rani and Unni, 2004), a process of informalisation seems to be de-facto at work. In this case, this study shows, the process of convergence between different labour-unfriendly regimes acquires distinct sectoral, national and local features, linked to the logics of 'global' garment production, to the progressive rise of the anti-labour stance of the Indian state, and to the functioning principles of the vast world ofIndia's infonnal economy. The distinct ways in which the process of infonnalisation unfolds on the ground in India in the sector under scrutiny, and their implications for industrial upgrading, is the main empirical question of this thesis, and constitutes the empirical backbone of this narrative. This narrative is infonned by fieldwork carried out in India between October 2004 and July 2005. During this period, eight gannent producing centres were identified and studied. These centres are Delhi, Ludhiana, Jaipur, Calcutta, Chennai, Bangalore, Tiruppur and Mumbai. The analysis of production and labour structures in the eight centres studied, which focuses with particular emphasis on gannent exporters' strategies of cost minimisation and labour control, reveals complex local architectures of production in the industry in question. As part of this, local processes of infonnalisation of labour unfold through context-specific modalities. These are linked to the evolution of local product specialisation, which, on its part, is shaped by the interplay between regional political economy trajectories and their insertion into specific final segments of the global market. These modalities may entail the sUbsumption of the infonnal economy into the so-called global gannent commodity chain, the incorporation of infonnal workers into some segments of the chain, or even the creation of new practices challenging the distinction between fonnal and infonnal production realms. The same modalities entail the strategic use of combinations of different infonnal social structures and structural differences, such as gender, age, mobility, and/or geographical provenience. By exploiting different combinations of these structures and differences, Indian gannent exporters attempt to 'resolve' and 'dissolve' their struggle with labour and realise industrial upgrading, reproducing their incorporation into the global economy. Although very distinct and locally-specific, these different local modalities of informalisation all lead to a same outcome; they splinter, segment and fragment labour, and prevent the formation of a homogenous working class. In their great empirical variability, they all illustrate how interplays between different 'labour-unfriendly regimes' effectively unfold on the ground.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available