ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Study of the Sualkuchi Silk Handloom Cluster in Assam

Reproduction of Informal Enterprises in India

Informality and diversity of institutional forms have been marked as distinct features of India’s postcolonial capitalist development. The present paper considers the conditions of reproduction of informal enterprises, specifically focusing on the living and working conditions of artisan labour in the silk-weaving cluster of Sualkuchi in Assam. The study indicates that kinship, gender, and caste act as regulative forces, influencing the form and scale of production, ownership, contract, and exchange relations. The results point to the significance of non-capitalist institutional arrangement in the reproduction of the handloom sector under contemporary capitalism.

Informality is among the dominant characteristics of the Indian economy with 93% of its total workforce earning their livelihoods as informal workers (NSSO 2014). The extent of informality is even higher among workers belonging to socially marginalised sections. Against the initial anticipation that given the subsistence nature of informal activities, it is largely a transitional phenomenon, likely to disappear with the deve­lopment of a modern industrial sector, not only has the informal economy persisted, but informalisation of the formal sector workers has also emerged as a distinct feature of the post-reform economic growth (Sanyal 2007). The teleological under­pinnings of the political economy of transition to capita­lism has also given way to a more nuanced understanding of multiple paths of an uneven transition to capitalism (Hart 1998). Informality and diversity of institutional forms have been marked as distinct features of India’s postcolonial capitalist development (Basile 2013).

It has been argued that capitalist globalisation, while inte­gra­ting labour from the global South under a pattern of global division of labour, has simultaneously reworked pre/non-capitalist institutional forms to mobilise, organise, and discipline labour (Harriss-White 2004). The universalising logic of globalisation is expected to transform the production conditions not only in the sectors that are well-integrated with the global circuits of capitalist production, but also those that have so far remained outside of it. This, however, is likely to be an uneven process, and hence, needs to be examined in relation to the local and sectorial specificities. The case of craft production that has shown remarkable diversity and tenacity under various production systems from “pre-industrial to industrial and post-industrial” is important because as a “highly contested and antagonistic form of production,” it is simultaneously exposed to challenges and opportunities under globalisation (Scrase 2003: 450).

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Updated On : 11th Sep, 2021

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