Examining Non-formal Education in Complex Knowledge-production
: A Case Study of the Safety Match work and workers in South India

  • Nam Or Narasimham Peri

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

This thesis problematizes and seeks to explain how knowledge is produced and transmitted in workplaces in the informal sector in India, and specifically the matchworks industry. There are three main questions at the heart of this thesis. First, how do mostly illiterate adult workers handle complex operations and secure the status as experts and transmitters of knowledge? Second, what insights might be garnered to contribute to learning theories in relation to workplace learning? Third, how might skills policies engage with non-formal work and learning in India so as to recognize diverse skill capitals? These questions open up an approach to learning in the informal sector I have called a cultural political economy of skills. The site for investigation is a detailed case study of the matchworks industry. The study focuses on matchworks enterprises and their occupational communities in several units across two clusters, ranging from manual operations to semi-mechanised and fully automated plants.

The design is a multi-method ethnographic study whose fieldwork extended over a fifteen-month period in South India. Philosophically, it is underpinned by a critical realist social ontology. Methodologically it draws upon Burawoy’s (1998) Extended Case Method to examine the connections between the historical, political and local practices around the dominant narratives of workplace learning. Using their lived experiences, study of artifacts and observations in their workplaces, it engages with broader conversations of informal labour around credentialisation, apprenticeship and the politics of vocational policy.

The study reports six main findings. First, the idea of ‘skill literacies’ offers an alternate perspective as to how work is valued. Second, learning in the matchworks is often non-linear, thus challenging linear models of learning. Third, the matchworks occupational community has a trans-local reach; skills frameworks need to take a wider view of the geography of this community. Fourth, automation can be an enabler of new kinds of skills and is not necessarily a negative substitute. Fifth, women play a key role as workers in the matchworks industry, and bring wider social relations into the workplace, and vice versa. Sixth, the matchworks are deeply embedded in the wider social relations of the community, which also shape what is valued in the workplace.

The originality and significance of this research is that, it brings into view a relatively unstudied sector – the matchworks - using a multi-method ethnographic approach. It concludes that skill frameworks need to take account of these complex cultural political and economic skills relations as they contribute to what is valued, and to economic productivity. As such, when local, situated practices are taken into account these have in turn important implications for top-down skill frameworks that hope to recognize the informal sector via training and the recognition of skills.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRoger Dale (Supervisor) & Susan Robertson (Supervisor)

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