Children’s Labour & Schooling: Ideologies, Histories, Everyday Lives

The proposed workshop on ‘Children’s Labour and Schooling: Ideologies, Histories, Everyday Lives’ is an effort to bring together a range of scholars to explore the interface of children’s work and schooling from the nineteenth century onwards.  Quite unlike earlier local, and less publicized attempts to end children's labour through schooling in India, the Right to Education Act (2009) is being viewed as a historic opportunity to finally realize this crucial milestone.  Current discussions on this Right are dominated by concerns relating to school access and quality. Though important, these discussions leave little room to explore the complex intersections between child labor and schooling in colonial and postcolonial India: intersections that draw attention to issues not necessarily exhausted by ensuring school access for laboring children.  This complicated past of less than ideal resolutions produced by a modern apparatus of schooling/training set in place by the colonial and postcolonial state, points to the need to open-up and rethink the binary framing of labor vs school which tends to limit contemporary discussions. 

Of central consideration is how the categories ‘child’, ‘labor’ and ‘school’ have been variously deployed in colonial and postcolonial India to reject, instrumentally accommodate and /or defer schooling for child laborers, and the continuing effects of these deployments in the present.  Topics broadly include:

• the shifting production of parental preference around children’s futures;
• missionary efforts that combined literary and technical education;
• the emergence of secular notions of age, delinquency and labor legislation in determining the ‘child’ figure;
• the specific histories of caste associations, occupational mobility and shifting aspirations;
• the pedagogic regulation of imagined ‘futures’ through modern sites and techniques of instruction like factory schools, industrial schools, half-time schools, object-lessons etc.;
• Nai Talim’s singular assertions around work and learning;
• national, transnational and global anxieties around ‘development’ and its foregrounding the ‘child’;
• India’s ‘demographic dividend’ and new assertions around ‘skills’;
• sites in contemporary India where children are engaged in labor, and combine work with schooling;
• linkages between children’s labor, migration, formal and informal arrangements of apprenticeship and India’s growing informal economy.

The workshop also welcomes intellectually creative, non-disciplinary reflections on the issue of Dalit and other marginalised communities’ experience of schooling and work. Autobiographies, poetry and children’s stories have emerged as significant genres to imaginatively explore the complex, everyday circulation and experience of existing hierarchies between those who work with their hands and those who work with their heads.  These writings compel social scientists to re-examine the ways in which we currently employ concepts like ‘labor’, ‘learning’, ‘mental’, ‘manual’, and the workshop welcomes these contributions.

Interested participants should send an abstract of not more than 400 words to Sarada Balagopalan (saradab(at) by 15 October 2013. Please specify ‘Children’s Labour and Schooling Workshop’ under the subject heading.