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In 1989 the sociologist Patricia Jeffery, writing about women and dung in rural UP, defined shit-work as low status, menial work without control over resources. Fast forward to urban TN where dung is but a small subset of a commodified and differentiated public-private waste economy that is structurally informalised. Using case material from fieldwork carried out between 2015-19, we follow gendered work in waste produced in the urban circuits of capital – in production, distribution, consumption, labour (human waste) and social reproduction. We look at materials, tasks, gendered labour relations, incomes and political-social invisibility. This generates resources for reflections about gender, caste, class and small-town shit-work, with questions about public policy.
Barbara Harriss-White drove from Cambridge to New Delhi in 1969 and has studied and taught about India ever since, working between agricultural economics, political economy and economic anthropology. Her research fields are (1) rural transformations, agricultural markets and the food economy: ‘Rural Commercial Capitalism’; (2) India’s informal and criminal capitalism: ‘The Wild East’; (3) aspects of deprivation: ‘Dalits and Adivasis in India’s Business Economy’; (4) the economy as a waste-producing system; (5) aspects of policy in all these fields and (6) the long-term study of a market town: ‘Middle India.’ In Oxford, she is Emeritus Professor of Development Studies, and Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College. She’s also a Visiting Professor at JNU, India.