Accepted Paper:

Tracing gold ownership to study debt relations in a South Indian silk-reeling cluster  

Author:

Nithya Joseph (IFP, Pondicherry)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will present analysis of gold-based life-story interviews in order to understand debt-credit relationships, in a silk-reeling cluster in south India. Insight from ethnographic fieldwork in the study site adds to learnings from interviews that use oral history and material culture lenses.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will present analysis of gold-based life-story interviews in order to understand debt-credit relationships, in a silk-reeling cluster in south India. Extensive fieldwork made it clear that debt-credit exchanges need to be viewed both as financial transactions and social bonds in order to study this home-based industry where production and reproduction are explicitly connected. A significant part of wealth of all individuals in the town have been stored in the form of gold - surpluses go towards its purchase and it is liquidised regularly for working capital. In addition to being an important store of value in India, gold has a range of social, spiritual, and political functions. Social obligations create pressure to buy gold - and even to borrow to do so. The life-story interviews tracing gold ownership, served as a way to access memories regarding other financial transactions and to understand how debt-credit relationships associated with the domestic sphere relate to production in these family-firms. Studying markets for labour, raw materials, and finished products, through participant observation and surveys of histories of firms revealed the role of advance payments - from employers to employees but also from agents, brokers, and creditors to all parties - in mediating production. The diversity in the terms and nature of debt-credit relationships of firms and households points to the range of socio-economic factors controlling the ability of both employees and employers to earn a living wage. Hence, the terms of borrowing and repayment determine whether labour and capital invested in the industry generates a surplus.

Panel P083
Debt: a critical reflection based on people's debts