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Call for Papers

8th International Conference of Labour History
18-20 March 2010, Delhi, India

The Association of Indian Labour Historians (AILH) in collaboration with the VVGiri National Labour Institute (VVGNLI) is invites proposals for paper presentation at the conference from historians, social scientists, labour activists and organizations on the themes outlined below.


For more than a decade historians in India and outside have been questioning the framing assumptions of labour history and re-drawing its boundaries –temporal, spatial, sectoral. What we see in recent years is a stretching of frontiers and a blurring of lines that separated the rural and the urban, the formal and the informal, the organized and the unorganized, the free and the unfree, the modern and the pre-modern, the public and private, the local and the global.

What does this stretching of boundaries mean for the writing of labour history? How do these shifts in perspective unsettle terms and categories with which historians operated? The issue for us today is not just the inclusion of groups considered marginal, residual but of foregrounding and centering what lay on the margins of labour history. Most histories of labour operated with an assumption of a homogenous spatial division of environment of work such as the division between the rural/urban or domestic/factory. Movement was assumed to be from one pole to the other. This homogenous division or unilinear movement can no longer be sustained. There is a need to develop frameworks with which to grapple with the idea of the radical heterogeneity of the category of labour.

In the present context of globalisation and liberalization, spatial inequalities between and within nations have intensified. New spaces of labour, such as Special Economic Zones, Free Trade Zones have been produced and familiar places of labour such as the neighbourhoods (hatas chawls, bustees and kampongs) and factories have been restructured. How do we then conceptualise labouring spaces that are heterogenous? How do we take into account the mutually constitutive ways in which labouring forms interact with different spatial environments? We invite scholars to rethink and reformulate spatial histories of labour focusing simultaneously on the production of spaces by labouring activities and also on the ways in which different spatial organizations shape labour forms.

This conference proposes the need to study the multiple linkages between forms of labour, labouring identities and labouring spaces. The reconceptualisation of heterogenous labour necessitates drawing on conceptual resources of other fields of research: on space and geography, on forests and agriculture, on transport and communications, on crime, law and war, on migration, disease and medicine and many other histories and see them in their inter-connection with histories of labour. We specially invite social scientists of other disciplines to engage with the questions raised by histories of labour. The conference aims to link together histories of the present and the past by inviting scholars, researchers and activists, engaging with contemporary scenarios and those studying the many pasts of labour in a common platform. We would like contributions from different regional and national contexts to develop a comparative and trans-national perspective.

The conference will be organized around two main rubrics:
1. Spatial histories of labour: Although notions of space have been implicitly a part of histories of labour, yet there is need to push and explore how labour is involved in the production of specific kinds of spaces and how spaces impact on labor. Possible lines of inquiry that can be developed are:
• Labouring lives and the production of urban space
• Spaces of leisure and sociability
• Spaces of Resistance
• Infra-structure, public works and the creation of new spatial grids
• The workshop, the factory and the domestic as spaces of work
• Law regulation and the constitution of spaces.
• Movement and migration

2. Linked histories: Labour needs to be seen in terms of its connections with other histories. It will be important to see how scholars working on caste, race, gender, environment, rural society, forests, tribals, crime and punishment, cinema and representation, and other areas look at their work through the prism of labour and labouring identities. Some themes that can be discussed at the conference are:
• Labouring lives and dalit histories
• Race ethnicity and labour
• Crime criminality and labouring classes
• Visualising work, representing labour: art, cinema and histories of labour
• Labour, capital and tribal lives
• Ecological regimes and labouring lives
• Masculinity femininity and labouring identities
• Labour movement and social movements

Submission schedule and other information
Abstracts (maximum 1.000 words) of the papers and panels proposed should be sent by November 15. We will inform selected participants by November 22. Those who wish to set up panels should contact us immediately in the next two weeks so that the schedule can be made out.
We will take care of board and lodging for all participants for the duration of the conference. Our financial resources will allow us to pay the invited participants 2nd class A/C rail fare from any part of India. We regret, that the AILH will not be able to fund international travel. We will however strongly support applications of international participants for travel funding to their respective institutions or other funding agencies.

Important Dates:
November 15, 2009: Panel and Paper abstracts
November 22, 2009: Final Selection of Papers and Panels
February 18, 2010: Final Submission of Papers

Please submit abstracts and papers electronically to:

For panels and other information contact:

Prabhu Mohapatra (E-Mail: )
13/602 East End Apartments
Mayur Vihar Phase I Extension
Delhi 110096, India
Phone +91-11-22742260, Mobile +91-9811606602

Chitra Joshi (E-mail:
61 Dakshinapuram
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi 110067, India
Phone +91-11-26741857, Mobile +91-9810933772

About the AILH
The AILH is an association of historians, social scientists, labour rights activists and organizations founded in 1996 December to promote scholarly studies of labour. The Association has since 1998 held seven International Conferences on labour history on various themes. Two major collections of essays based on recent conferences have been published (Labour Matters:Towards Global Histories, Tulika Books, New Delhi 2009, and India’s Labouring Poor, Foundation Books, New Delhi 2005). The Association in collaboration with the VV Giri National Labour Institute, NOIDA has also set up an Archives of Indian Labour, the largest online depository of labour related documents and other resources. The archives can be accessed at For further information on the Association and the VVGNLI see