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Date: Mon, 28 Apr 1997 14:24:52 -0400
To: afrlabor@acuvax.acu.edu
From: cbrown@panix.com
Reply-To: AFRLABOR@acuvax.acu.edu
Subject: Re: Labnet: Conference Labour History Assoc. of India

First Conference of the Labour History Association of India
Chennai (Madras), March 1998

From the AfrLabor list, 28 apr 1997

Thematic Outline:

The written history of Indian labour is deeply imbricated in a narrative of transition(s), at least four forms of which are implied in it - a structural one involving the transition from a pre-capitalist (traditional) to a fully developed capital vs wage-labour relation, in other words the transformation of the Indian peasant into an industrial worker; the seocnd a spatial or sectoral transition i.e. the movement from the countryside to the industrial city or from agriculture to manufacturing; the third, a temporal transition originating somewhere in the middle of the colonial era to the post-independence period, and finally, the transformation of mentality and worldview implied in the passage from caste or community to class orientation.

There are of course many variations on this theme of transition - in some accounts the transition is (unfortunately) not complete, with the Indian peasant-worker in a hybrid limbo; some others stress the persistence into the late-twentieth century of antediluvian forms of labour relations, institutions and mentalities whilst highlighting the "peculiarly Indian and culturally specific" nature of developments. These variants share a strong teleology - though recent researches have made it clear that transitions are niether unilinear nor singular; they incorporate reversals as well as sharp breaks. Many levels of temporalities and several processes are involved. At a point in time marked by `post-industrial' transition and the demise of the classical factory proletariat, it may be useful to examine the theme of transition with a fresh perspective. Is "transition" an adequate concept for analyses of changes in labour relations in the longterm?

The dominance of the transition motif in Indian labour history has been partially responsible for two glaring lacunae. The first concerns the absence of a history of several forms of labour that apparently escaped transition viz., so-called informal sector labour both rural and urban. Nine out of ten workers are presently employed in this sector in which labour relations and institutions are marked by features that have persisted from at least the colonial period such as the wide-ranging activities of labour intermediaries, and the presence of piece-rated remunerative arrangements, varying types of bondage, etc. The absence of historical-anthropological accounts of several so-called traditional industries remains a crucial gap in labour history. Secondly, historical accounts of labour have tended to focus on emergent large-scale enterprises in the late 19th century, such as cotton, tea, jute, steel and railways. Consequently little is known of labour relations in the pre-colonial and early colonial period in non-agrarian sectors of the economy. There is an urgent need to research these periods in order to trace the genealogies of present forms of labour and to recover the histories of those forms of labour that have disappeared.

Call For Papers:

The Association would like to solicit papers under two categories for the envisaged sessions. There will be an open session for scholars to present summaries and/or themes out of their research on any aspect of labour history. A part of the session shall be devoted to a discussion on sources, for which we would like to request scholars to present accounts and evaluations of their research on archives, documentary sources or oral histories. We may organize another panel if the nature of the papers received call for this.

The other session will be devoted to two themes emanating from the rubric: `Transitions' in the History of Labour: Relevance and Critique, for which we again solicit contributions. The first of these will be Labour on the Margins, which will cover artisanal work and so-called informal sector labour in early and pre-colonial times as well as in a more recent or even contemporary setting. It will include forms of organisation, control and resistance. We would like to invite results of research into traditional industries, artisanal work and non-organised, unregulated sectors of employment.

The second panel, entitled A Comparitive History of Labour Intermediaries, will be devoted to researches of the phenomenon of jobbery, sardari and mediate forms of labour organization, recruitment and supervision and their equivalent forms in other parts of the world. Labour intermediaries have been a perennial theme for historians of labour in India. As recruiters, controllers and organisers of labour (the `outsiders'), they have had an overwhelming albeit ambivalent presence in the landscape of capital-labour relations. What explains their persistence and prevalence in the past and today? Are they peculiarly Indian figures representing an underlying cultural essence or are they merely transitional characters reflecting the persistence of pre-modern and pre-capitalist structures of production relations in India? A comparative perspective would provide interesting answers to these questions - and we would like to encourage a re-examination of the institution of intermediaries comparing similar institutions across various industries as well as over time. We would also be interested in comparative research on this subject from other countries.

The conference is (tentatively) planned to be held in Chennai (Madras) in March 1998. Scholars interested in participating should send brief abstracts (not more than 500 words) to the following addresses:

Prof S. Bhattacharya Centre for Historical Studies
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi - 110 067

Dr Janaki Nair
Madras Institute of Development Studies
79, Second Main Road, Gandhinagar
Chennai - 600 020.