ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Sovereignty through/against Capital: Reshaping Middleclassness in the Indian Information Technology Sector


Shakthi S. - University of Amsterdam, Human Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, Amsterdam, Netherlands


11 – Rethinking governmentality: Sovereign agency beyond the state in South Asia


The Indian information technology (IT) industry has held a unique position in mainstream imaginaries, functioning as a symbol of socio-economic change in the country’s post-liberalisation era. Much of this visibility derives from the sector’s employment of millions of middle-class software workers. Against this backdrop, this paper draws on long-term qualitative research in and around Chennai’s IT industry to approach sovereign agency in a two-pronged manner. Firstly, it considers manifestations of sovereignty in the techniques of spatio-temporal control deployed by companies over employees in order to maximise productivity and profit. Secondly, it analyses the emergence of IT worker unions as a form of sovereign resistance to corporate disciplining strategies. Through this analysis, this paper grapples with Leela Fernandes’ influential formulation of ‘consumer-citizenship’, where purchasing power is the principal mode of middle-class citizenship claims (Fernandes 2006), as opposed to collective bargaining, which was dismissed by the ‘new’ middle class as a subaltern pursuit. This paper bring out the limits of consumer-citizenship when faced with more recent shifts in the global market and in middle-class workplace cultures. It demonstrates that the collision between the colossal power of the market and the resistance offered by the ‘knowledge professional’ results in complex configurations that are consequently reshaping ‘middleclassness’ itself.