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Accepted Paper:

Precarious Infrapolitics: Work and Autonomy of Contract Labor in a Modern Industrial Food-Processing Factory in Post-Conflict, Western Nepal  
Michael Hoffmann (ZIRS/University of Halle)

Paper short abstract:

This article discusses the politics of a group of marginalized casual workforce in a modern food-processing factory in western Nepal.

Paper long abstract:

This article contributes to understandings of contemporary contract labor in South Asian industries by offering an ethnographic perspective on a region that has been largely neglected thus far in scholarly literature on the subject: Nepal. It describes how formerly bonded laborers and their descendants have begun working as contract workers in a modern industrial food-processing factory with the help of their (kin-related) contractors. One of the main features of their new life as contract laborers is its chronic precariousness. However, as I further show, despite their precarious condition, contract laborers display a strong assertiveness in face of managerial authority. Such assertive gestures point towards a space of politics that I call a 'precarious infra-politics' a concept derived from James Scott's outline of 'infra-politics'. I illustrate how such 'precarious infra-politics' is rooted in a new sense of autonomous consciousness that has developed among the ethnitized contract labour force in the post-conflict context. I further argue that this newfound sense of autonomy among contract labour is the result of a combination of an avoidance of dangerous and difficult work, the historical exploitation of low-caste Tharus by upper-caste employers, and a disillusionment with the political class per se—including the two major Maoist parties—in the post-conflict context. My article thus contributes to the literature on the transition from agriculture to industrial work, precarity and ethnicity in Nepal.

Panel P012
Visions of futures from industrial workplaces: shop-floor reflexivities on work, political agency and social reproduction
  Session 1