Aspirational Labour and Self-Making: A Study of Retail Workers in Delhi Malls

Bardalai, Keya (2021) Aspirational Labour and Self-Making: A Study of Retail Workers in Delhi Malls. Doctoral thesis, NIAS.

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Thesis advisorUpadhya,
Abstract: With the liberalisation of the Indian economy in the 1990s, there has been an expansion in consumption-driven organised services such as real estate, retail and hospitality, manifested in the proliferation of expensive shopping malls, multiplexes, gated communities, cafes and restaurants -- particularly in the urban metropolises. This new service economy employs a large youth workforce, who usually come from under-privileged backgrounds and many of whom are migrants. The nature of labour and employment in this sector is distinctive, shaped by neoliberal management ideas and practices that promote self-making, self-maximisation and self-disciplining. While all of us have encountered these young men and women in shopping malls and large retail stores, few studies have investigated their social backgrounds, their educational or employment trajectories, or the processes that mould them into modern service workers. Given that organised services employ a growing proportion of the workforce in India, an examination of the nature of these jobs and the kinds of labour that these young men and women perform warrants sociological attention. My dissertation explores the lives of retail workers in malls of Delhi and Gurgaon, specifically within the apparel and beauty segments. The thesis is framed as a workplace ethnography and is situated within the anthropology and sociology of work and labour. It traces how young retail employees are crafted into appropriate service workers through management practices, how they engage with the requirement to perform aesthetic labour, and how they negotiate with practices of self-making and self-maximisation encountered in the workplace. I describe the life histories of retail workers in three large stores, their entry into the retail workforce, the aspirations that they associate with these jobs, and the kinds of labour they perform. Through an ethnography of retail spaces and retails workers’ lives, I discuss how their expectations and aspirations are altered by their work and how they negotiate their identities as they come to inhabit the novel environment of the shopping mall and interact with managers and customers. The thesis examines the implications of neoliberal employment practices and middle-class and elite consumer cultures for the subjectivities of service workers, and the ways in which working in elite mall spaces shape social identities.
Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: The thesis was submitted to Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.[Year of Award 2021][Thesis No. TH62]
Keywords: Sociology of labour, retail work, aspirational labour, mobility
Subjects: School of Social Sciences > Urbanization
School of Social Sciences > Sociology
Doctoral Programme > Theses
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2022 09:16
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2022 05:23
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