Company towns and marginality in eastern India
Christian Strümpell (Hamburg University) scrutinizes the role of urban planning in the production of marginality in an industrial town in eastern India.
Lecture by Christian Strümpell, Hamburg University, Germany.
Lunch is provided, registration required
The paper scrutinizes the role of urban planning in the production of marginality in an industrial town in eastern India. The town came into existence in the late 1950s to house the workforce of a public-sector steel plant established at the same time. Steel plants were considered essential for Nehru’s vision of a modern, secular, democratic and “socialistic” India. They would provide essential goods, render the country economically autarch from foreign imports and hence buttress its political independence. They would be owned and run by the state who would distribute them equally across the country’s internal peripheries and thereby integrate them closely into the nation-state. In its steel plants, the state would offer rural migrants modern work and modern employment, i.e. permanent jobs with relatively good social benefits. The state would employ workers irrespective of backgrounds of caste, religion and region, and transform them through work into a pan-Indian model workforce and citizenry for the nation at large. Over the course of the last twenty years, a growing body of anthropological literature has critically engaged with the Nehruvian project of modernization through industrialization highlighting the class divides it has provoked within the Indian working class(es) and the ways these divides relate dialectically to ethnicity, kinship and gender. By contrast, the role the urban structures that were developed adjacent to public-sector industries and that were in fact an integral part of it played in the production of inequality has received comparatively little attention. Based on long-term ethnographic research in the steel town Rourkela in eastern India, I will show in this paper that the company town created a segregation of the local steel workforce that reflected pre-existing notions of ethnic difference, but turned them into a class divide over the course of one generation, and I will argue that this reveals the importance of these sites for understanding the unevenness in the reproduction of class.
Christian Strümpell is deputy professor at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Hamburg University. He earned his PhD in Social Anthropology at the Free University Berlin in 2004 and has held research positions at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany, at the South Asia Institute at Heidelberg University and at the Research Centre Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History at Humboldt University Berlin. He has conducted ethnographic researches on industrial workers in India and Bangladesh. He published articles in Contributions to Indian Sociology, in Economic and Political Weekly, Citizenship Studies and Modern Asian Studies.
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