Coffee Hour with Madhumita Dutta: Telling life stories: Reflections on researching everyday lived experiences of work-life of women workers in Tamil Nadu, India

Friday, November 4, 2016 - 3:30pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.

SVG Industries manufacturing facility in Haridar
SVG Industries manufacturing facility in Haridar.

About the talk

This is a story about lives of young women who had come to work as factory workers in a small industrial town in southern Indian state of Tamilnadu. Traveling up and down to the factory everyday, donning their white aprons, swiping their IDs cards they entered the shop floor to become part of a global workforce. The trials and tribulations of the shop floor were part of their daily experiences. The assembly lines became sites of solidarities and friendships, submissions and subversions, discipline and rebellion. At end of the work shift, these bodies carried their world of work outside the factory into the homes and rented rooms. Their lives outside the factory deeply connected to the shop floor—materially, socially and emotionally. Through a process of conversations and narration of life stories, the young women reflect upon the social and economic conditions and processes that they experience and negotiate everyday at different spaces that they occupy as women and workers, waged and unwaged. This enables them in telling their stories with "an intimacy, complexity and force" (Pratt, 2000: 640), offering multiple views of factory workers’ experiences and dispelling stereotypes. I reflect on the process of doing research that evolved through this dialogic approach and a commitment towards "co-production of knowledge"(Nagar, 2013, 2016) and the challenges on the way.

About the speaker

Madhumita Dutta completed her PhD in (Labor) Geography in 2016 from the University of Durham, United Kingdom. She is currently a post-doctoral scholar at the Center for Global Workers’ Rights in the School of Labor and Employment Relations, College of the Liberal Arts, Penn State. Her doctoral thesis is titled "Gendering Labour Geography: Mapping women’s world of labour through everyday geographies of work-life at a Special Economic Zone in Tamil Nadu, India." The thesis explores the social relations and processes that shape women’s geographies of work in the everyday context of life within which work is located. The thesis is available online at: Prior to the PhD, Dutta has been an activist in India for over 16 years, working with communities resisting forcible takeover of their livelihoods sources, as well as destruction of their social and cultural habitats. Starting her career as a journalist and then moving on to working closely with communities struggling against the excesses of the state and corporate power, Dutta drew her inspiration from the struggles for justice and dignity of the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India and is a volunteer for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. She has traveled widely across India as a freelance researcher, writer and activist and has written articles for Indian newspapers and magazines.

Suggested reading

Dutta, M. [2016]. Place of life stories in labour geography: why does it matter? Geoforum, Vol. 77, 1-4.

Contact us

Penn State encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Angela Rogers in advance of your participation or visit.

Angela Rogers  office: 814-865-2493 email:

Coffee Hour