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Title: Spexy : life, labour and fakery in metropolitan Delhi
Author: Jaju, Garima
ISNI:       0000 0004 9355 5995
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2020
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My doctoral thesis is an ethnography of work in new types of jobs in the burgeoning private service economy in urban India, based on 14 months of immersive fieldwork in the capital city of New Delhi, with youth working as salespersons, optometrists and store managers in a fast-growing organised retail company, that I call Spexy, that sells budget eyewear products (sunglasses and prescription glasses). In the thesis, I examine the store staff’s everyday practices, actions and fantasies on the storefloor to study the changing social subjectivities, norms, practices and imaginaries in contemporary India, in the current moment of contested liberalisation and corporatisation, accompanied by increasing socio-economic uncertainties and individual self-responsibilisation. The site of work—so intimately linked to the individual’s sense of self and social membership—provides a rich ground for these larger explorations which, in turn, have implications for broader socio-political organisation and action. I focus on how young and aspirational men and women from low- and middleincome households attempt social mobility through participation in low-end service work in the city. The thesis demonstrates how the New Economy marshals the hopes and aspirations of people to sell to them visions of enhanced futures as possible and proximate. Alongside, it promotes as desirable the ideals of professionalism, brandednes, technical acuity, individual enterprise, and organizational excellence that is achieved following new managerial mantras of self-government. These qualities come to be linked to the image of the ‘right’ workplace and the ‘right’ worker – the new age professional. However, the cracks begin to show when the workers’ everyday experiences at the workplace prove to be a far cry from these idealized visions of progress and modernity. I highlight the multiple contradictions that the youth face working in the retail stores, with aim to understand the anxieties this creates for them and how they reconcile these contradictions or learn to cope without reconciling. To do so, I pay close attention to the youth’s subjective and everyday experiences as well as their agentive responses. Primarily, I discover how the youth come to learn about the centrality of fakery and trickery in the organization of the economy as well as socio-cultural life today. Fakery speaks to their own condition of distance from the image of ‘real’ progress promised to the ‘real’ professionals. At the same time, trickery comes to shape their understanding of how to fake to successfully navigate the economy. Through their understanding of fakery and trickery, the workers generate a critique of the New Economy, and end up creatively re-interpreting its basic terms and promoted ideals to create alternate subjectivities. Through thick descriptions of the complex realities of the young people’s working lives, I argue that the contradictions that the youth face results in disappointment arising from their thwarted hopes, but it also opens for them a window into better understanding how contemporary life is structured and the various formal and informal modes of operating within it.
Supervisor: Gooptu, Nandini Sponsor: Oxford Department of International Development
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Social Anthropology