What Makes a Modern Indian Profession? Corporate Policies and Middle-Class Subjectivities in Chennai's Information Technology Industry

Change log
Ramani, Shakthiroopa 

This thesis explores the workings of the information technology (IT) industry in the South Indian city of Chennai, and its impact on middle-class identity formation. It adopts a distinctly gendered approach in its analysis, while also commenting on themes that travel beyond conventional feminist research. It draws on a variety of qualitative sources, including 61 interviews with IT employees, managers and executives, diversity consultants, IT union leaders, labour rights activists, bureaucrats and college placement officers; participant observation at IT conferences, protest meetings, and political events, as well as limited observation on the ‘office floor’; and diverse documentary material, including government and industry reports, websites and legal frameworks. The aim of this narrative-driven thesis is to capture some of the complexities of IT employees’ lived realities, contextualised within the local and global processes that impact this transnational industry.

The thesis begins with an exploration of specific practices within the industry that contribute to employees’ heightened insecurity and situates fledgling attempts at collective action on labour issues within performances of ‘middleclassness’. It then unpacks the construction of gender roles by and through the industry, while identifying sites of contestation and agency for employees. This is followed by a closer examination of the industry’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, specifically those concerning workplace sexual harassment, as seen through a socio-legal lens. Finally, it problematises the hegemonic figure of the ‘techie’ through an analysis of IT employees’ multiple identities and their articulation within the workplace. Collectively, the data chapters challenge the normativity of discursive framings of employees and policies within the industry. More broadly, this thesis calls for ‘thick descriptions’ (Geertz 1973: 6) of labour relations in local contexts, while emplacing these within transnational capital circuits. It also argues for a more nuanced interrogation of the fluidity of class formation through employment in certain industries, particularly in postcolonial settings.

Fennell, Shailaja
Class, Gender, South Asian Studies, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Middle Class, Globalisation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge