TM2 Workshop+Informality

TM 2  Labour as A Political Category

International Workshop: Between the State and the Site of Production:

The Making of Informal Labour Relations

Hosted by Prof. Bino Paul at TISS Mumbai, the co-organisers Profs. Nicole Mayer Ahuja (Goettingen) and Christoph Scherrer (Kassel) of this International Workshop brought together nearly 30 scholars working on different aspects of informal labour relations. Sessions addressed core issues such as ‘State Policies of Informalisation’, both in terms of theoretical approaches and empirical perspectives. ‘Labour at the Site of Production’ concentrated on i) Organisation, Control, Conflict, ii) Home as a Worksplace, and iii) Self-Employment. One session provided transnational perspectives. The Key Note speakers addressed the issues of ‘Workers’ Struggles Against Informality’ (see photo). The workshop also included a field trip to Dharavi, Mumbai’s prominent slum with its diverse informal labour markets.


Programme       Photos        Workshop Brochure         Keynote

key note speakers (Profs. Prabhu Mohapatra, Chitra Joshi, Naveen Chander)

Concept Note 

‘Informal labour’ has been a topic of academic as well as political discussion ever since the early 1970s when Keith Hart coined this term in a study for the International Labour Organisation on the labour market in Ghana. As a relative concept, ‘informal labour’ is usually defined as being the opposite of ‘formal labour’, or legally regulated employment. Thus the term ‘informal labour’ typically refers to employment, and labour market dynamics, whereas the site of production tends to be neglected. Moreover, the role of the state in the making of ‘informal labour’ appears as a ‘black box’ in many discussions. If state action is considered at all, debates evolve around the question whether politics should promote or abolish these jobs: Whereas representatives of modernisation theory in the 1950s and 1960s have argued that informal labour was a leftover of pre-modern times, bound to disappear on the way to a bright, and modern future, as defined by the contemporary centres of capitalist development, more recent contributions have identified ‘informal labour’ as a result of current capitalist dynamics.

While some argue that informal labour constitutes sub-standard employment, thus resulting in growing insecurity, not only for the workers concerned, but also for the remaining core workforces, others welcome ‘informal labour’, emphasizing its capacity to provide job options for those (especially women, and migrants) who are precluded from formal employment, and to promote a culture of self-help, in the context of family, ethnic group, or neighbourhood. Consequently, the political solutions proposed vary considerably: If informal labour is on the decline anyway, no state action is required; if it results in the undermining of social standards, political actors must fight informalisation; and if it is celebrated to overcome ‘labour market rigidities’, the role of the state is to boost informalisation further. The very question how state politics contribute to the making of ‘informal labour’, however, is hardly addressed. In this workshop, we would like to move beyond these debates, in mainly three respects.