Prof. Dr. Shirin M. Rai (Senior Fellow, University of Warwick)

Depletion: The Human Cost of Caring

1 October 2019 – 31 March 2020

During my time in Delhi I worked on two chapters of the book that I am writing on Depletion: the human cost of caring (OUP). This book explores something that we often overlook in our theoretical analyses of care and caring – its human cost. Building on previous work, I will explore the multiple facets of social reproductive work and how its undervaluing is not just a theoretical gap in our knowledge, but a cost to those who perform this work and as such a subsidy to the state and capital. The argument is that depletion as a concept is a bridge between unpaid social reproduction and paid work, public and private realms of life – it connects the two and allows us to show how we cannot understand the value and costs of one without that of the other.

In the time that I had at ICAS, I worked on two chapters – the first (chapter 3) was a cross-class analysis of social reproduction as part of the everyday and its depleting effects. Analysing the time used in social reproductive and paid labour by eight women, across class boundaries in one day of their lives in New Delhi, I explore in this chapter how women from different social classes organise their paid and unpaid work and how is this work narrated, valued, translated into social goods and public policy. 

The second focused on costs of commuting to work – both paid and care work – to assess how this contributes to the intensification of depletion.  When we speak of commuting to work we think of travelling for paid work – to the site of employment. When we think of conditions of employment we think only of conditions on the sites of work (SDG 8). Both these framings have consequences – in terms of human wellbeing and depletion as well as in terms of social policies (transport, flexible working hours, health and safety). I show in this chapter (chapter 4), travelling to work can significantly increase depletion – physical as well as mental and in terms of accessing the sphere of paid work because of its impact on social reproduction.

In addition to these chapters, I also worked on putting together a book proposal for the ICAS series. The book – Responsibility of the Intellectual: Indian eyes on an international Left landscape (1960s – 1970s) – is a collection of essays by Lajpat Rai (my father); it is a history of Left debates within the international communist movements and states, through the eyes of a man who remained committed to the Left even after his exit from the CPI in 1964. It brings together articles on international left politics and about the communist world – Cuba, Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China are all subject to critical (often rather harsh) analysis from a Left perspective. I will write a substantial introduction to this volume. The proposal was reviewed and accepted by the ICAS editorial board for the series. I am really pleased that I was able to do this; the ICAS fellowship made this possible through the support of colleagues, especially of Debjani Mazumdar.


Shirin M. Rai studied at the University of Delhi (India) and Cambridge University (UK) and joined the University of Warwick in 1989. She is Professor in the department of Politics and International Studies. She is the Director of the Warwick Interdisciplinary Research Centre for International Development. Her research interests are in performance and politics, political institutions and the political economy of development.  Her latest book is Performing Representation: Women Members in the Indian Parliament (with Carole Spary; OUP, 2019). As Senior Fellow at ICAS:MP, Professor Rai will be working on her forthcoming book Depletion: The Human Costs of Caring. She is keen to interact with early career researchers and colleagues working in the broad field of international political economy and gender and politics.

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