“Hybrid Cottonseed Production is Children’s Work”: Making Sense of Migration and Wage Labor in Western India

  • Kacy McKinney Department of Geography, Middlebury College
Keywords: seasonal labor, migration, young people, hybrid cottonseed, field research, political structures, economic structures, social structures, patterns of mobility, focus groups, interviews, gender, seasonal migratory labor, school, marriage


In this article, I explore the seasonal labor migration of young people from a tribal community in southern Rajasthan, India. In recent years, hybrid cottonseed production has come to be viewed in this community as “children’s work.” Drawing on nine months of field research, I describe the political economic and social structures and processes through which this migration has become commonplace. I discuss the contradictory nature of young people’s engagements in this work, focusing on shifts in understandings of their own agency and in their patterns of mobility. I employ young people’s experiences and stories, drawn from focus groups and interviews, to show how gender works to mediate these engagements and understandings. The study of seasonal migratory labor, through the grounded perspectives of laborers themselves, sheds light on how young people negotiate their roles within households and communities through their working lives at home and away from home. This case also presents an important example of how school and marriage can be used to organize and frame young people’s work in significant, unexpected, and lasting ways.
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