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City Seminar

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Internal Migrant Workers and Construction Labour-Camps: The Architecture of Discipline and Control in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Sunil Kumar, Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science

Labour camps housing internal migrant construction workers can be conceptualised as ‘heterotopian’ spaces, following Foucault. I argue that they are one point in a continuum of the architecture of discipline and control. Interventions to address the exploitative nature of the working and living conditions in labour camps are complex, not least because: (i) construction moves in space and time; and (ii) labour moves, in and out of a given project, depending on skill requirements; and (iii) labour camps make their residents invisible and hard-to-access. In the Indian context, this complexity increases due to the regional and linguistic diversity of the migrant labour force. Using the Urbanisation-Construction-Migration (UCM) Nexus in South Asia (Kumar and Fernandez, 2016), I use a Foucauldian lens to argue that the ‘conundrum of collective action’ emerges from an extended architecture of control and discipline: (i) pre-construction control through cash-for-work advances; (ii), in-construction labour camp control and discipline through a combination of enclosure, panopticon and appeasement; and (iii) post-construction indebtedness. Collective action spaces are thus squeezed out of existence.

This talk is part of the Infrastructural Geographies - Department of Geography series.

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