This chapter examines how gender interacts with informal workers’ collective action strategies in the context of contemporary development scripts around economic growth. Specifically, it engages the theoretical debates on the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism as the systems of domination that organize gender and class. Drawing from a comparative analysis of informal workers’ movements in India’s domestic work and construction sectors, I find the relationship between gender and class and between patriarchy and capitalism is being reconceptualized from below and differs by occupational structures and organization histories. For domestic workers, movements assert what I call a “unitary” model of exploitation. Because domestic workers’ organizations entered the productive sphere through a focus on social reproduction, their struggles conflate gender and class to reverse the shame attached to domestic work and increase the recognized worth of women’s labor. Because construction workers’ organizations mobilize male and female workers and began as class-based organizations focusing on productive work, they articulate what I term “a dual systems” approach to patriarchy and capitalism that exposes inequalities between men and women within the sector, such as unequal pay, glass ceilings, and issues of embodiment. In both cases, global development scripts have not only shaped movement approaches, but also enabled movements to articulate gendered labor subjects in innovative ways. While domestic workers’ unitary model has had more success in increasing women workers’ dignity and leadership, construction workers’ dualist model has attained more successes in attaining material benefits in the reproductive sphere. These findings suggest that debates on unitary versus dual-systems models of exploitation present a false dichotomy and veil the reality that both are necessary for feminist theory, development models, and women workers’ struggles on the ground.
I am deeply indebted to the leaders and members of the organizations that gave their invaluable time and insights. I am also grateful to Jennifer Chun for our rich discussions and her thoughtful comments on earlier drafts, the excellent comments of an anonymous reviewer, and the tireless research assistance of Shiny Saha, Sonal Sharma, and Rebecca Bowers. Funding for this project was made possible by the Ford Foundation
Agarwala, R. (2018), "From Theory to Praxis and Back to Theory: Informal Workers’ Struggles against Capitalism and Patriarchy in India", Gendering Struggles against Informal and Precarious Work (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 29-57. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920180000035002Download as .RIS
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