1st Edition

‘Labour Class’ Children’s Schooling in Urban India A Sociological Account

By Reva Yunus Copyright 2024

    Drawing upon classroom ethnography and interviews with parents and pupils in urban central India, this book offers systematic sociological analyses of childhood, labour and schooling in postcolonial, post-liberalisation India. It combines insights from economic sociology, political economy and feminist critiques of capitalism, caste patriarchy and globalisation to theorise the relationship between educational experience and socioeconomic inequalities. It unpacks poverty as a structural condition shaped by class and caste relations, thus offering a vital intervention in dominant development discourses centring on the relationship between poverty and poor children’s schooling in the global South. Unravelling the interplay of poverty, caste patriarchy and shifts in the gendered division of reproductive labour, it challenges both the ‘girl effect’ narrative as well as the ‘school/labour’ binary. It offers insights into ‘labour class’ families’ experience of urban informal work, enabling a critical account of the gendered place of school in children’s lives and rendering visible poor parents’ and pupils’ efforts to ensure educational success. Thick descriptions of pedagogic and disciplinary processes and social relations in the classroom allow it to grapple with teachers’ ‘deficit view’ of the labour class as well as the impact of stratified schooling on teachers’ working conditions and teacher-pupil relations. The book presents a rare account of teenaged children’s gendered modes of negotiation of social relations at school and home, waged and unwaged work, economic and educational deprivation and pedagogic practices in the classroom. It will appeal to scholars interested in the sociology of education and childhood, gender and caste inequalities, international development, poverty and urban informal work.


    Table of contents


    1. Making a case for sociological accounts of childhood, labour and schooling
      1. Theorising the link between educational and socioeconomic inequalities
      2. Poverty and poor children’s schooling in development discourses
        1. The ‘girl effect’

      3. Informal work
        1. A note on the term, ‘labour class’

      4. Methods
      5. Organisation of the book

    2. Theorising intersections: poverty, patriarchy and urban children’s schooling in India
      1. Socioeconomic and educational stratification and access to schooling
        1. Stratification, participation and access
        2. Decision-making within families

      2. Classroom processes, experience and social relations
        1. Teacher attitudes and discrimination
        2. Welfare, poverty and social class difference

      3. Theoretical framework
        1. Childhood, the school/labour binary and political economy
        2. Caste, class and informal work
        3. Poverty, gendered work and social reproduction
        4. Caste patriarchy and children’s lives

      4. Contributions

    3. Labour class students and their families: a look at urban lives and labours
      1. Introduction
      2. Migrating to Indore
        1. Children migrating without parents

      3. Labour class parents’ work
        1. OBC families
        2. SC families

      4. Children’s gendered work
        1. Boys’ work
        2. Girls’ work

      5. Conclusion

    4. Ghar, bahar and the gendered place of school in children’s lives
      1. Introduction
      2. Ghar: Why school is dearer than home
        1. (Un)freedom: village versus city
        2. (Un)freedom: no bargains within patriarchy
        3. (Un)freedom: when protecting becomes policing

      3. Bahar: What could be more important than school?
        1. The rewards of (waged) work
        2. The reward is in recognition: jaan-pehchan

      4. Conclusion: Gendered and classed significance of school

    5. Sarkari skool’, ‘sarkari bacche’: unpacking the narrative of deficiency
      1. Introduction
      2. The ‘sarkari’ school
        1. Overview of infrastructure, facilities and routine
        2. What is ‘sarkari’ about the school?

      3. Teachers’ ‘deficit view’ of labour class children
        1. Differences between teachers’ practices

      4. Challenging the deficit view
        1. Labour class parents’ struggles and strategies
        2. Labour class pupils’ struggles and efforts

      5. Conclusion

    6. The hidden moral curriculum for ‘labour class’ children
      1. Introduction
      2. Disciplining the welfare-dependent labour class
      3. Keeping labour class children ‘clean’
        1. Countering the narrative, cleaning the school

      4. For the love of caste patriarchy: policing clothes, space and interaction
        1. Constructing and negotiating labour class femininities
        2. Policing techniques in the classroom
        3. Negotiating gender policing

      5. Conclusion

    7. Schooling, social inequality and impossibilities of change
      1. Children in families
      2. Children in classrooms
      3. Conclusion




    Reva Yunus is Lecturer in Education and Social Justice in the Department of Education at the University of York, UK.

    ‘Through a much-needed focus on how ‘labour class’ children and their families persist with schooling, Reva Yunus offers a powerful sociological analysis of urban childhood and young people’s gendered negotiations with education in India.  Readers interested in how marginal childhoods and classroom experiences are deeply shaped by gendered social processes and structural constraints of poverty, caste, stratified schooling and unwaged and waged labour will treasure this timely account.’ - Sarada Balagopalan, Associate Professor of Childhood Studies, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA


    ‘Based on rigorous ethnographic work and interviews with parents and pupils in urban central India, Reva Yunus has produced a sophisticated and sharp analysis of how caste, class and gender (re)shape social reproductive labour and so doing challenges the way dominant development narratives formulate gender issues and the school/labour binary. This book should be read by all those who are interested in issues of gendered inequalities and educational and social deficits.’ - Shirin M. Rai, Distinguished Research Professor, Politics and International Relations, SOAS, University of London, UK


    ‘This book is a valuable contribution to scholarship on the schooling of children and its relation to labour, examining school experiences and social relations of those who teachers label 'labour class' children.  Drawing on economic sociology, political economy and feminist critiques of class and caste patriarchy, the book expands the scope of work on marginality and educational inequality in the Indian context through careful ethnographic inquiry into the resonances of wider structural inequalities of gender, class and caste in schools and classrooms.’ - Nandini Manjrekar, Professor, School of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India