3. Labour market globalisation, group re-composition and models of professional organisation

The effects the globalisation of the economy on migratory phenomena, and particularly on migrations from the periphery to the core (Wallerstein, 2009) have been widely studied (Sassen, 2009). Certain aspects of globalisation such as “brain drain”, which is particularly severe in the ICT sector in India, have been relatively well examined (Lazonick, 2006). However, deregulation processes with increased circulation of capital and the technological elite, which affect certain segments of the labour market in semi-peripheral countries, are far less studied (for example, the emergence of labour “grey zones” in a context of globalization, Azaïs, 2010).

As such, there are no analyses of the consequences of the arrival of foreign companies, notably in the Bangalore and Hyderabad regions, on the group of Indian engineers. Like Michelin, which has set up a plant near Chennai, these companies import their own engineers and develop their own internal training structures. What are the criteria used by the foreign companies to decide whether to use local technical labour or to bring their own engineers? What positions do the members of the two groups hold in these foreign companies? How, specifically, does the arrival of this skilled, foreign technical labour create competition with the Indian engineers? How are hierarchies redefined between the training institutions and between the different fractions of the Indian engineer group? Though such competition is particularly prominent for the engineers working in the labour market sectors most exposed to globalisation, (Information Technology, IT), they are nevertheless not absent from other fractions such as engineers specialized in irrigation, disinfection or water distribution, who may see their professional territories redefined by international agencies providing subventions, like the World Bank, or by the technical consultants tasked with administering these funds.

Also, what impact does the international mobility of a fraction of Indian engineers have on the Indian labour market and on the organisation of the engineer profession in India? How do the main social properties (training locations; length and geographical diversification of time spent abroad; job sector and field of specialization; social origins; configuration of the family, etc.) of these Indian engineers who have returned to their native country mix with one another? The social logics of these engineers’ homecomings are beginning to be understood for Moroccan and Tunisian engineers (Gobe, Marry, Chamozzi, 2013) and research has been undertaken in India in order to measure the spatial consequences (in terms of urban investments) of the return of this skilled labour (Varrel, 2008), but what about the internal evolutions of the engineer profession? What are the relevant variables, in India’s case, that will allow for a sociological and historical analysis of these workers’ trajectories? To what extent are these international careers mobilized as an advantage used to negotiate a powerful position in the economic sector or in public structures? In the period leading up to India’s independence, numerous engineers trained at MIT were both fervent supporters of nationalism and dominant actors in the new institutions of Indian society (Bassett, 2009). Today, what effectiveness does this “international” capital of engineers (Wagner, 2011) have on the professional hierarchies and on the structure of the field of power?

The studies proposed by this project’s research teams attempt to provide an initial set of indicators showing the effects these new forms of circulation of international capital and the technological elite have on the structure of the Indian engineer group. The studies will also analyse the controversies currently dividing the engineers over whether competition from foreign labour should be stymied in order to protect the national market, or whether it should be welcomed. How, according to their specific interests, do the various groups of actors (representatives of the central government, representatives of different states, the main Indian trade unions and professional associations of engineers, the spokespeople for national and foreign private interest groups) participate in these debates? As research on the transformations in legal professions in Asian countries has shown (Dezalay, Garth, 2010), the socio-historical perspective is particularly important. In what respect do current questions about the control of group borders fall into a longer history of the profession? In what sense is it also question of the legacy of struggles between Indian and British engineers that marked the colonial and pre-Independence periods (Ramnath, 2010)? How does this legacy point toward a path that contemporary politics might also follow? How does this history articulate the different professional models that dominated, at different periods, the engineer profession in Europe: the State and its civil service engineers, the market and its entrepreneurial engineers, companies and their salaried engineers, and the engineer profession and its licensed professionals?


References : 

Azaïs, C. (ed.). 2010. Labour and Employment in a Globalising World: Autonomy, Collectives and Political Dilemmas. Bruxelles: Peter Lang.

Bassett, R. 2009. MIT-Trained Swadeshis: MIT and Indian Nationalism, 1880-1947. Osiris 24: 212–230.

Dezalay, Y. and Garth, B. 2010. Asian Legal Revivals Lawyers in the Shadow of Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lazonick, W. 2006. Globalization of ICT Labour Force. In Avgerou, C., Mansell, R., Quah, D. and Silverstone, R. (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Information and Communication Technologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ramnath, A. 2010.  A New Institution for Engineers: Change and Continuity in the Profession in India 1900-1935. Communication presented at the 4th European South Asia Ph.D. Workshop 27th/28th August, Heidelberg.

Varrel,  A. 2008. “Back to Bangalore”. Etude géographique de la migration de retour des Indiens très qualifiés à Bangalore (Inde). Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Université de Poitiers.


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