A city of bricks needs a village of kilns
: The everyday politics of labour in the Khanda brick kiln cluster

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis looks at the capitalist social relations and material landscapes implicated in the brick production process through which millions of bricks are made available to the urban agglomeration of Delhi-NCR for its ongoing growth and repair. It locates these relations in the village of Khanda in Sonipat District where the second-largest brick kiln cluster supplying bricks to Delhi-NCR is located. Khanda, which has a population of 9000 residents, has over 50 brick kilns and a migrant population of more than 35,000 workers who live in the kilns for eight months of the year. The thesis follows the making of Khanda as an urban-industrial hinterland, grounding the kiln cluster as not an abstract industrial enclave but as deeply embedded socially and spatially within its surroundings. Farming households sell their land’s soil cover to the kilns and go on to participate in various ways in the new local economy, most notably finding self-employment through vending alcohol or becoming an unqualified doctor or labour contractor within the kiln economy. The kilns thus sustain not only the material production of the city but prop up the economy of the village.

The central analysis of the thesis however concerns the everyday politics of labour within the brick kilns. It follows in the footsteps of the works of sociologists, anthropologists and geographers studying the politics of labour in the informal economy in India. While the thesis engages with several of the analytic foci within these works such as bonded labour, social difference, ideologies of work, forms of collective action, it juxtaposes them against aspects of the labour regime that have not been adequately researched. These include the interaction of ecological dimension of production with concrete labouring processes, entrepreneurial local economies anchored to the factory regime, wage relations and material conditions of everyday social reproduction within the kiln, forms of worker’s agency emerging through the politics of production and social reproduction, and the circumstances and affective dimensions of migration between the village, kiln, and the city for workers. The everyday politics of labour is presented as an open-ended process constituted through a multiplicity of determinants, and linking historically produced divisions and structures to active, contemporaneous processes.

Date of Award1 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlex Loftus (Supervisor) & Katie Meehan (Supervisor)

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