ACCESS Seminar: Having a room of her own: Gender, labor and the politics of everyday work-life for young women workers in an Indian special economic zone


In 2013, when I started my field research on everyday gendered experiences of work-life for women workers in a factory in southern India, I chose rooms where the women lived as one of my research sites. However, as my fieldwork progressed, the room emerged as an object of analysis where the social life of labour unfolded in the everyday relations of gender, caste, work, and negotiating neighbourhoods in migrants places. These small, confined and ordinary spaces held multiple layers of relations, experiences and stories of workers that revealed the ‘small-scale geographies’ of labour, connecting lives inside the room to the workplace and beyond. Focusing on the significance of non-workplace spaces, like a room, is an analytical approach that helps to bring new focus on the everyday and ordinary—on how labour is as much lived as it is worked by spilling over into everyday relations of life. I contend that seemingly ordinary spaces can reveal labour in all its complexities. In this talk, I will focus on two groups of young migrant women – Tamil and Oriya, who had come to work in an electronics factory in Tamil Nadu. These groups of women produced and experienced place quite differently, linked to the conditions of their migration, social ties with their homes, conditions of employment, nature of work, wage relations, and the arrangement of living spaces and neighbourhoods. The intersection of all these relations produced differences in how they imagined and sought to create social spaces and networks that enabled them to make everyday decisions around work, negotiate migrant spaces and social ties. Drawing from labour geography’s focus on workplaces, I extend the meaning of workplace geographies to include where workers live and where the everyday labour of social reproduction takes place.


Madhumita Dutta is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at The Ohio State University, USA. She has her PhD in Geography from Durham University, UK and has done her post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Pennsylvania State University, USA. Her research explores themes around work, gender, life stories, workplaces, labour conditions, and organizing in South Asia. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, edited volumes and popular media. Before joining the academia, Madhumita has been an activist in India for over sixteen years, working with communities fighting against the excesses of the state and corporate power. More information about Dr Dutta.