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Title: Of poverty and markets : the political economy of informal waste recovery and plastic recycling in Delhi
Author: Gill, Kaveri
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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Using the case study of a particular recyclable material, namely plastic, in the urban metropolis of Delhi, this thesis breaks new ground by undertaking to study the micro, meso and macro levels of the waste recycling industry. It begins by comparing waste work at the lowest level of the chain with alternative informal sector livelihoods, ranking the groups on specially constructed multi-dimensional poverty indices. This assessment is based on a quantitative survey administered to 200 slum households, unique in sampling the desired objects of study by occupational category at their place of residence. Following the tradition of institutional studies of agricultural markets, the thesis goes on to the trace the vertical market in recyclable plastic up to the factory level, using extensive qualitative data gathered from actors internal and external to the market. The thesis documents various economic aspects of the chain, shaped by specific technological and physical imperatives of the industry. It seeks to verify the economic viability of livelihoods provided by plastic recycling, in terms of returns at every level of the chain being supported by the market. In recognition of the socially embedded nature of market exchange, an attempt is made to deconstruct the specific form of exchange relationships underlying trade between any two layers of the value chain, as well as the means whereby social institutions underwrite and regulate these implicit contracts throughout the market. The thesis concludes by stepping back from the internal dynamics of the informal plastic recycling market, using three recent policy legislative case studies to assess the impact of government policies and judicial fiat on the continued existence of the market. This legislation, driven in large part by external perceptions of waste work and plastic recycling, supposedly acts in favour of the larger social and environmental good. The thesis offers a critique of such policies as being paternalistic, based on misplaced welfarist arguments that ignore the socially embedded nature of livelihoods linked to this industry. In other cases, it is argued that the policy-making elite ignores the externalities of such legislation on the well being of the poor whose livelihoods depend on the continued existence of the industry. This study takes an important step towards expanding research in the direction of important, from the perspective of poverty and employment, if not the national economy, small-time value chains that have heretofore been neglected in the literature.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available