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Marxism, Sarcasm, Ethnography: Geographical Fieldnotes from South India

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This paper addresses questions of ethnography in geographic fieldwork through research conducted on globalisation and work in Tiruppur, an industrial boomtown in South India. During the last two decades of the twentieth century, Tiruppur town in western Tamilnad State became India's centrepiece in the export of garments made of knitted cloth. This industrial boom has been organised through networks of small firms integrated through intricate subcontracting arrangements controlled by local capital of Gounders from modest agrarian and working-class origins. In effect, the whole town works like a decentralised factory for the global economy, but with local capital of peasant-worker origins at the helm. My research explores the historical geographic trajectories linking agrarian and industrial work, and the ways in which these histories are used in the present. In these uses of the past in remaking self and place, I interrogate the self-presentations of Tiruppur's entrepreneurs, as these “self-made men” hinge their retrospective narratives of class mobility and industrial success on their propensity to “toil”. This paper explores questions of ethnographic method emerging from a political-economic context in which globalisation has worked by turning “toil” into capital.

Keywords: capital; ethnography; fieldwork; gender; globalisation; subaltern

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

Publication date: 2003-07-01

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