Caste, social capital and precarity of labour market intermediaries: The case of Dalit labour contractors in India

Article Abstract

Research on precarity predominantly adopts a monolithic view of labour market intermediaries and ignores the differential distribution of precarity based on social group membership. This omission not only hinders a nuanced understanding of precarity but also prevents our ability to address inequalities. To address this, we examined the influence of caste on differential experiences of precarity among labour contractors (LCs) in the garment industry in Tamil Nadu, India. We find that unequal distribution of social capital along caste lines leads to Dalit LCs experiencing greater precarity than their upper caste counterparts, and being stuck in such precarity. Specifically, caste-based dynamics of social capital threaten the survival of Dalit LCs by distorting their economic wellbeing and destabilizing their leadership, and hindering their upward occupational mobility by confining their spatial mobility, limiting resourceful connections, and thwarting growth opportunities. Our study shines new light on how societal inequalities differentially distribute precarity among actors in the same occupation and underscores the intersectional nature of occupational precarity as well as the contextual nature of social capital.

Organization Studies, May2023 

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About the researcher

Dr. Hari Bapuji is a Professor in the Department of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Melbourne, Australia. His research and teaching broadly cover strategic management and international business. His current research is predominantly focused on how economic inequality affects organizations, and vice versa. He serves as a co-editor of Business & Society, a leading journal dedicated to research on issues that matter to both business and society. He is a Co-founder of Action to Improve Representation.

Dr. Bapuji has published numerous scholarly articles that appeared in leading management journals, including ‚ÄčAcademy of Management Annals, Business and Society, Harvard Business Review, Human Relations, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of International Business Studies, Journal of Management, Journal of Management Studies, Journal of Operations Management, and Organization Studies. Dr. Bapuji’s research is frequently recognized for its impact on business and society, and has been widely cited by hundreds of print and electronic media outlets, including New York Times, Huffington Post, Financial Times, Business Week, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNN, Washington Post, China Daily, USA Today, Sydney Morning Herald, People’s Daily, CBC, The Globe and Mail and Straits Times.

Dr. Bapuji has won a number of awards and grants for his research and has authored cases used by tens of thousands of students around the world. He has over ten years of industry experience in information technology and human resource management. He has lived and worked in Australia, Canada, India, and Singapore.

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