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Social & Cultural Geography

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Internal migration -- India -- Sociological aspects, Seasonal labor -- India -- Social aspects, Labor mobility


This paper focuses on seasonal labour migration in rural India to examine how migrant returnees sought to reconstitute historical and hierarchical social relations in their home villages. I use qualitative research conducted in Maharashtra state in western India from 2014-15 among landowning farmers, landless returnees, and nonmigrant laborers. I demonstrate that for the returnees, an important element of social and cultural change in their home communities was their ability to upend and replace 'residual culture,' based on expectations of continued exploitation and performative hierarchy, with an 'emergent' one. I claim that the mechanics of counter-hegemony in rural Maharashtra includes a struggle for vernacular equality to eliminate caste-based practices of humiliation, including labour exploitation. I show that the attempts by returnees to reconstitute social relations in their home communities were undercut by the limits of cultural politics, in its inability to usher in the change that entails the redistribution of resources and substantive political power. This research contributes to theoretically textured scholarship in cultural geography on contestations between elite and subordinate cultures, particularly on the question of efforts to erase unjust historical practices of humiliation and how spatial, social, and economic mobility of the returnees, in part, enables this effort.


This is an original manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Social & Cultural Geography on October 25, 2022, available at:



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