This paper offers a revised theoretical model to understand the historical development of labor under capitalism. Drawing on Antonio Gramsci, Karl Polanyi, and Nancy Fraser, the revised model highlights how state politics and ideologies have reshaped formal and informal labor to fuel evolving accumulation models since the 1950s. It also deepens our analysis of the potential and limits of labor's contemporary countermovements. Potential advances must be read in terms of increased protection and increased recognition relative to earlier eras. Limits must be read relative to the hegemonic forces splintering workers’ countermovements. Applying the revised model to the empirical case of Indian informal workers in various sectors, I illustrate how the Indian state used informal workers as a political actor (not just an economic actor) to organize consent for a powerful new hegemonic project of market reforms (of the Gramscian variety) that undid labor's twentieth-century gains and empowered large businesses, but retained democratic legitimacy with the mass labor force. I also expose and evaluate two kinds of countermovements emerging from below by Indian workers: self-protection movements (of the Polanyian variety) and emancipatory/recognition movements (of the Fraserian variety). India's recent hegemonic project enabled informal workers to counteract the dehumanizing effects of labor commodification by offering an alternative labor protection model. This model has the potential to redefine the working class (and its protection) to include multiple employment relationships for the first time. It also promises to recognize the social relations between multiple categories of vulnerable populations, reminding us that caste, gender, and class are mutually constitutive (rather than mutually exclusive). But this model is highly constrained by contemporary hegemonic forces, highlighting the complex relationship of society to state—one of contestation and, for the sake of survival, collaboration.
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Research Article| September 01 2018
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Rina Agarwala; The Development of Labor under Contemporary Capitalism. Sociology of Development 1 September 2018; 4 (3): 239–260. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sod.2018.4.3.239
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