The Labor of Social Change: Seasonal Labor Migration and Social Change in Rural Western India

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Migrant agricultural laborers -- India -- Maharashtra, Agriculture -- India -- Social aspects, Food supply, Maharashtra (India) --Social conditions


In this paper, I examine the relation between seasonal labor migration in rural western India and social change in the home communities of the migrants. The phenomenon of seasonal migration has been studied from the lens of remittance flows and net-loss-and-gain-of- labor between regions. However, there remains a paucity of studies that examine how marginalized people employ their personal experiences, ideas, and sensibilities in the process of circulating between their home and destinations to contest their historic, unequal power relations in their home villages. This research is an effort to fill that gap.

Based on research conducted in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra in rural western India during summer 2014 and summer through fall 2015 and drawing on Gramscian concepts of counter-hegemony, I claim that in rural Maharashtra, seasonal labor migration has caused ripples in the social lives of the villages, impacting landowning farmers, landless laborers, and relations of production. These changes are visible in quotidian politics: in new farmer and laborer subjectivities, challenges posed to the common sense of social conduct, and migrant politics of resistance visible in the migrants' “war of position” against landowning farmers. While migration and development policy, both in India and globally, has focused on the integration of internal migrants in their destinations, the quotidian political conflicts in the home communities of internal, circular migrants continue to remain largely unexamined. By studying migration as a social process, this paper exhorts policy analysts to situate “home” as an appropriate avenue to understand how communities transform through migration.


Note: At the time of writing, Pronoy Rai was affiliated with the University of Illinois.

Originally appeared in Geoforum, volume 92, June 2018, pages 171-180.

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