Book Talk: "Informal Labor, Formal Politics, and Dignified Discontent in India"

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
12:30 - 2:00 pm
Bunche 10383

Presented by Rina Agarwala, Johns Hopkins University

with Discussant: Scott Cummings, UCLA School of Law


About the Book:

(from Cambridge University Press)


Since the 1980s, the world's governments have decreased state welfare and thus increased the number of unprotected “informal” or “precarious” workers. As a result, more and more workers do not receive secure wages or benefits from either employers or the state. What are these workers doing to improve their livelihoods? Informal Labor, Formal Politics, and Dignified Discontent in India offers a fresh and provocative look into the alternative social movements informal workers in India are launching. It also offers a unique analysis of the conditions under which these movements succeed or fail. Drawing from 300 interviews with informal workers, government officials, and union leaders, Rina Agarwala argues that Indian informal workers are using their power as voters to demand welfare benefits (such as education, housing, and healthcare) from the state, rather than demanding traditional work benefits (such as minimum wages and job security) from employers. In addition, they are organizing at the neighborhood level, rather than the shop floor, and appealing to “citizenship,” rather than labor rights. Agarwala concludes that movements are most successful when operating under parties that compete for mass votes and support economic liberalization (even populist parties), and are least successful when operating under non-competitive electoral contexts (even those tied to communist parties).


About the Speaker:


Rina Agarwala

Rina Agarwala is an assistant professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University. She holds a BA in Economics and Government from Cornell University, an MPP in Political and Economic Development from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a PhD. in sociology from Princeton University. Agarwala is the co-editor of Whatever Happened to Class? Reflections from South Asia (2008). She has published articles on informal work and gender in International Labor Journal, Political Science, Research in the Sociology of Work; Theory and Society, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Critical Asian Studies, Social Forces, and Indian Journal of Labour Economics. She has worked on international development and gender issues at the United Nations Development Program in China, the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India, and Women’s World Banking in New York.

Scott Cummings
Professor Scott Cummings teaches Business Associations, Professional Responsibility, and Community Economic Development, and he is faculty chair of the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law. His scholarship focuses on the organization and practice of public interest law, and he is currently working on a book that examines the role of public interest lawyers in the movement to transform the Los Angeles low-wage economy. In law school, Cummings served as executive editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. He clerked for Judge A. Wallace Tashima of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge James B. Moran of the Northern District of Illinois. In 1996, Cummings was awarded a Skadden Fellowship to work in the Community Development Project at Public Counsel in Los Angeles, where he provided transactional legal assistance to nonprofit organizations and small businesses engaged in community revitalization efforts.


This event is presented by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) and cosponsored by the UCLA Center for India and South Asia (CISA)