Det är med stor glädje vi vill meddela att vår disputerade doktorand Riya Raphael är en utav pristagarna som tilldelas Vetenskapssocieteten i Lunds avhandlingspris 2021! Priset utdelas för att utmärka framstående insatser inom humaniora.
Riya disputerade 10 juni 2021 med sin avhandling 'Circles of Value: A Study of Working Lives of Informal Sector Traders in Delhi, India.'
Riya Raphael’s thesis, Circles of Value: A Study of Working Lives of Informal Sector Traders in Delhi, India, explores the lives of pheriwale women, a group of self-employed traders in Delhi. The thesis is a significant feminist and postcolonial contribution to a sophistication and re-definition of the concept of value. It is an original contribution to the efforts within social theory to rethink labour in terms of the value and the dignity of work.
För att fira detta pris bjuder vi här på en intervju med Riya om hennes avhandling.
Who are pheriwale and why did you decide to study them in your dissertation?
Riya: Let me begin with the second part of the question, which is a difficult one. Maybe there are many subconscious reasons why we choose to study certain aspects of the social world, whether they are human/social activities or particular groups’ experiences. In the case of my PhD thesis, to be honest, I had always been curious about pheriwale women and their work. So the thesis gave me an opportunity to delve deeper into the everyday working lives of street traders such as pheriwale in Delhi.
I was born and have lived a majority of my life in Delhi. Plus, my family and I have moved around and have resided in several parts of the city. The presence of street vendors and traders has always been quite visible, in all the neighbourhoods where I grew up in and have lived. It is very common to depend on street vendors on a daily basis. For example, for buying fruits, vegetables, cooked food, chai, or for services such as fixing quilts, sharpening knives, recycling cardboard and so on. You can continue to see various types of trades taking place on the narrow streets besides where my parents live currently.
So while growing up there was constant interaction with various groups of street traders. For example, when I was a teenager I got my pocket money from reselling all the newspapers, hard plastics and cardboard to traders called ‘kabadiwale’. I had to sort all the recyclables at home and then my father would invite the kabadiwale, who would come home with a weighing machine. Depending on the weight of the waste/used-goods, they would take the recyclables in exchange for cash, and I could keep this as pocket money. So, maybe somewhere I was always quite curious about local small-time traders, with whom we interacted quite regularly in everyday life.
Like the kabadiwale, pheriwale would also often visit our neighbourhood(s), they would shout out aloud their arrival and householders could invite them in and give them old clothes in exchange for new kitchen utensils. Pheriwale are one of the predominantly women trading groups, or at least visibly so in Delhi. Similar to many of the street vendors, pheriwale, are self-employed traders. Their primary trade is to sort and collect old/used clothes from people and exchange that for new kitchen utensils. Groups like pheriwale are also present in other cities and towns in India, though my thesis revolved around pheriwale and their everyday work specifically in Delhi. A vast majority of such traders, including all the street vendors, largely belong to India’s vast ‘informal’ economy, because their work does not provide any welfare or social security or is based on contracts. Moreover, their incomes are low and hence, do not fit within the formal tax brackets.
Pheriwale in their trade, collect a significant amount of used-clothes. Every morning they bring all the collected goods to a marketplace in West Delhi, and this is where I would regularly meet pheriwale during fieldwork. In this marketplace, they sell the second-hand clothes forward for immediate consumption to low-income working classes of the city. A part of the clothes pheriwale collect also end up in export factories, where the clothes are disintegrated and incorporated again as fabric or as other clothing items. These used-clothes are also bought by traders of other regional street markets. In this manner, pheriwale contribute to and are part of various goods and value chains locally, regionally and globally.
Tell us about the intersectional perspective in this study.
Riya: Work and working lives in India have always been bound up with caste, in addition to other hierarchies such as gender and class. Therefore, it was crucial to turn to feminist literature in India, particularly Dalit feminist scholarship. Dalit feminist scholarship has systematically shown how these intersecting hierarchies are reproduced and in turn transform the way we study India’s historiography, contemporary politics, institutions, work, labour market, knowledge production and other aspects of social life.
When we look at the ‘division of labourers’ within the labour market, both in the formal and informal economy, it becomes quite clear that the economy is organized not only on the basis of class but also caste and gender. For example, higher salaried jobs are predominantly occupied by upper caste groups, whereas low income jobs, which largely exist in the informal economy are occupied by lower caste groups. In recycling economies, workers who work with waste are overwhelmingly from some of the lowest caste groups. Hence, the legacy of caste (and untouchability) and the ways in which they are intertwined with class and gender in India are important to take into account. Feminist scholarship on intersectionality, in my thesis, allowed me to contextualise their experiences at and beyond work vis-à-vis the larger structural patterns. So intersectionality helped in noting both the everyday moments of class, caste and gender hierarchies as well as how these arise and are reproduced structurally.
What was the most rewarding/challenging parts of your fieldwork in Delhi?
Riya: Probably the most challenging part was the first few weeks of fieldwork. I was overconfident in some senses, I thought doing fieldwork in Delhi, in my ‘hometown’, would be easy because I presumed that I would contact organisations who would then further lead me to networks and contacts. But that did not happen, the organisations I visited did not have contact with pheriwale. In retrospect, that was a good thing because then I directly visited the pheriwale’s marketplace and make my own contacts. To be honest, in general I found fieldwork challenging because I constantly felt I was imposing on people, asking questions while they were working. Even though, people were quite generous with time, it still felt strange to conduct interviews. Another challenging part was writing about people’s experiences, the process of translating what people had shared with me into text. I guess writing is always hard!
There were so many rewarding parts of the fieldwork and my PhD journey. But I would say the most rewarding part, personally, was to observe, acknowledge, respect and value people’s relation to their work. For instance, the complexity of people’s working day, all the efforts, joys, anxieties and challenges that occur at work. For the women, work continued even after returning home from the marketplace or after collecting the used-clothes. In their everyday, there is always so much to do at home, in terms of child care, care for the elderly, house chores, cooking and cleaning. Talking to pheriwale and observing their everyday work and writing about it within a doctoral thesis format, has been immensely valuable. This project has taught me so much about the conceptualization of value, how to read, write and engage with people’s experiences within social sciences. In this entire thesis process, I am very grateful to my supervisors who guided me, but they also let me do my own thing.
When I look at the last four and half years of PhD studies, the thesis has changed so much and in many ways I feel that the thesis has had its own life. At many points in the last two years, I have followed the thesis process, rather than always shaping its direction. For example, initially, I thought the thesis would be more about the circulation of the used-clothes, or the nature of pheriwale’s trade. At another point, I thought it would be about their trade vis-à-vis the growing finance capital or the lines of formal-informal economy. However, the final outcome has been a thesis which centres pheriwale’s everyday working lives, the value generated by their labour as well as the everyday aspects that they value in their working day, and this has been exceptionally rewarding.