Brown University

Informal Labor Politics in India and Beyond | Rina Agarwala, Johns Hopkins

April 21, 2014

Rina Agarwala is interested in how vulnerable populations assert their rights through social movements. Her research has examined this issue across a range of populations, including informal workers and migrant workers. Although her research focus has been on India, she is involved in several networks to examine these issues on a global scale.

In this Brown-India Seminar talk, Agarwala draws on research published in her recent book, Informal Labor, Formal Politics, and Dignified Discontent in India (Cambridge University Press, 2013), which examines how India’s informal workers (i.e. those who are unprotected and unregulated by labor laws) are launching alternative labor movements that use the power of their votes to attain social welfare. Expanding on her findings from this project, she has examined how gender interacts with informal workers’ movements to create new forms of state-protection and how India’s informal worker organizations have extended their movements to the transnational level by partnering with international agencies, unions in other countries, and universities. She is currently working on a comparative project that examines informal workers’ alternative movements in 7 countries.

Her co-edited volume, Whatever Happened to Class? Reflections from South Asia (Routledge Press, 2008), explores how class-based analysis can help us better understand the contemporary challenges faced by urban workers, agricultural workers, and middle classes in India and Pakistan.

Currently, Agarwala is working on a new project that examines how Indian emigrants affect India’s development through migrant organizations. She is examining these processes among low-skilled migrants to the Gulf and high-skilled migrants to the US. For the examination of migrants to the US, she is working with colleagues examining similar issues in 8 other countries. Although migrants (and especially their financial remittances) have recently been heralded as a primary actor in international development, we know little about social remittances (such as ideas, knowledge, and technology transfers) from the diaspora or new skills and forms of political power imported by return migrants.

Prior to joining Johns Hopkins University, Agarwala worked on international development and gender issues at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in China, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, and Women’s World Banking (WWB) in New York. Her undergraduate work was done at Cornell University (BA), where She studied economics and government. She completed a Masters in Public Policy (MPP) at Harvard University, where she concentrated in political and economic development, and completed her Ph.D. in Sociology and Demography at Princeton University.

Friday 4/25 | 2:30-4:30pm
Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute
Reception to Follow