Adaptation of the Rural Working Class in India: A case study of migrant workers

Wendy Olsen, Bhim Reddy, D. Clark (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this chapter we use qualitative anthropological fieldwork and two sets of survey data collected by Bhim Reddy. Bhim Reddy did his field research both in Andhra Pradesh villages and in the migrants’ destination cities (Mumbai and Nasik in Maharashtra). We describe how the adaptation of an individual is embedded in gradual changes in social class relations. This adaptation partly takes the shape of a change in workers’ strategies ex post after arriving at the migration destination. However there is also resistance to change, as we found when we examined a variety of research materials, and there are aspects of adaptation which directly involve the village home site as well as the urban residence of the migrant. The core research data include a full village survey and twelve semi-structured interviews with selected women migrants. We also draw upon published and unpublished case accounts of migrant construction labourers from Andhra Pradesh who work in Maharashtra. The data are used to explore the hypothesis that adaptation is a passive response to new conditions. We find the workers active rather than passive, with one exceptional area, relating to gender. The conclusions of the paper are as follows. Firstly, a change in a second-order strategy is one form of adaptation after migration. Secondly, acting on a desire to change one’s own social class does not necessarily successfully change the class structure, but it can alter one’s own sense of confidence and dignity over time. Thirdly, some women still experience subordination within marriage whilst at the same time undergoing a raising of both expectations and skills in association with becoming a circulating urban migrant labourer.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdaptation, Poverty and Development
Subtitle of host publicationThe Dynamics of Subjective Well-Being
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012


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