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Product, equipment, uniform: Material environment and the consumption of work in New Delhi, India

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pThe article focuses on how low and lower-middle class youth employed in new private sector jobs in the booming service economy in Indian cities engage with the material environment of their workplace, and how, through their ‘aesthetic scrutiny’ of its materiality, come to ‘consume’ work. The setting is the store floor of a fast-expanding organized retail company, called Spexy, that sells budget eyewear products. Through ethnographic elaboration, the article follows how the Spexy staff deride the ‘un-branded’ products, ‘un-technical’ equipment, and ‘un-professional’ uniforms at their workplace. The company, as constituted of these ‘poor’ materials, is mocked for failing in its ‘company-ness’ and branded ‘fake’. The material environment of the workplace provides a platform for the articulation of larger configurations of ‘feelings’ the youth seek to give and get through formal employment in a private company. These articulations, in turn, reveal larger sociocultural valuations regarding ideas of social mobility and visibility in contemporary India where there is a strong interest in brand regimes and brand value hierarchies, fixation with technological education and expertise, and attraction towards a corporate work culture in the private sector, and, concomitantly, a strong desire amongst the store staff to craft branded, technical, and professional work identities. By putting the scholarship on work and consumption in dialogue, the article demonstrates how bottom-rung urban workers look expectantly to the material environment of company work to fulfil these desires.</jats:p>



Work, consumerism, materiality, identity, service economy

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Modern Asian Studies

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Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford