The Entrapment of Unfree Labour: Theory and Examples From India

Wendy Kay Olsen, Jamie Morgan

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In this paper we explore some aspects of contemporary unfree labour in rural South India. We draw on 130 case studies and (informally) extensive field research. We do so in order to make the central point that the conditions of unfreedom are variable and subject to change but that the basic vulnerabilities are significant. Being unfree in a labour relationship is a contingent effect of a set of factors. We stress the role of (a) entrapment of labourers, (b) immiseration within bondage, and (c) barriers to exit from the labour contract. In explanations, structural factors are also important. The paper forms a basis for further empirical research in a variety of global settings even beyond India.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-203
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Developing Societies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2015


  • unfreedom
  • labor relations
  • labor market
  • moral economy


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