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Creation and transformation: value and the satisfaction of work

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For the employees of an Indian scrap-metal yard, work is a process of disassembling things that other people no longer want. Despite the difficult conditions of the labour and the social stigma attached to it, employees express personal satisfaction in the work process itself. This observation raises important questions for theories of labour, alienation and value, which primarily see artisanal satisfaction as arising from an act of ‘making’. Based on ethnographic research in the Indian industrial city of Jamshedpur, this paper suggests a new conceptual framework for understanding why some types of work are experienced in more satisfying ways than others. Through an engagement with questions of skill, value and agency, the paper argues that the core of a satisfying work task is a process of transformation, rather an act of creation.

This talk is part of the Centre of South Asian Studies Seminars series.

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