Mobility and Pathways to Autonomy of Women: A Study of Informal Workers in Fisheries Sector in Kerala, India

  • Nikhila Menon

Student thesis: Phd


Mobility and Pathways to Autonomy of Women: A study of informal workers in fisheries sector in Kerala, India Mobility defined as the freedom and ability to move has intrinsic and instrumental values in promoting human development. Paid work which involves mobility associated with work can be a 'capability-enhancing' experience when such mobility improves opportunities and enhances freedoms. However, the existing studies have neither examined nor measured mobility with its multiple domains for women. My thesis fills this gap in research by exploring the multiple domains of gendered mobility by measuring mobility as a single construct and analysing whether mobility is a 'capability' for women workers which improves autonomy and agency. It is inter-disciplinary as it is situated at the confluence of development studies, human geography and sociological disciplines. The following features of the thesis make it unique in the development studies discipline. First, the contextual setting is unique as it is based in Kerala, which is a socially progressive state in India. The thesis unearths the underlying structural constraints in the Kerala model of social development for transformation of women workers under patriarchy. It is a comparative study which examines the household autonomy and agency of two types of informal women workers in the post-harvest fisheries, namely 'peeling workers' linked to production chains and 'fish vendors' who are self-employed. Second, the capability approach provides the theoretical framework for the analysis of mobility of women as capability and it introduces a new concept of 'transformational mobility'. By examining mobility using the Rasch Rating Scale Model (RSM) for the first time in development studies, the thesis operationalises capability measurement by introducing the measurement scale of mobility of women workers which empirically delineates the multiple domains of mobility based on the constraints faced by women. Third, the mixed methods research design using survey data and qualitative interviews of women workers provide better insight and contextual understanding of women's work. An innovative method, namely, the Crisp set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (CsQCA), explores the causal mechanisms that bring about 'transformational mobility' in women workers. The thesis empirically proves the significance of social and human capital factors like caste, low education of spouse and marital status along with the underlying patriarchal structures that determine pathways to transformational mobility and decision making of women. Lastly, the qualitative analysis using classic grounded theory contributes to the emergence of substantive theories for women workers which reflect contrasting agentic behaviour of peeling workers and fish vendors in the context of Kerala. The lack of collective agency among peeling workers questions the claims of Kerala model of development in improving the agency of women. The findings confirm that work mobility associated with informal low paid work is not necessarily a capability for women in fisheries.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMaria Pampaka (Supervisor) & Mohammad Farhad Hossain (Supervisor)


  • Mobility, Transformational Mobility, Autonomy, Informal Workers, Fisheries, Women Workers, Kerala
  • India, Gender, Capability Approach, Rasch Model, CsQCA, Grounded Theory, Mixed Methods

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