Suturing Sugar Agro-Capitalism: Labour Intermediaries and Seasonal Labour Migration in Rural Western India

Pronoy Rai from Portland State University (USA) explains the role of labour intermediaries in weaving capital-labour relations in sugarcane agro-business

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In this presentation, I explain the role of labor intermediaries in weaving capital-labor relations in sugarcane agro-business. I do so by focusing on migration infrastructure or the vertical network of labor intermediaries who facilitate labor recruitment from migrant home villages and migrant labor disciplining on cane fields in rural western India, where the laborers are brought seasonally to harvest sugarcane. I show how labor intermediaries cannot be understood by containing them within the villainous stereotypes associated with brokers. Intermediaries are embedded within the labor geographies of commodity production where capital accumulation requires the downward transferring of the risk of financial loss from capitalist agro-business to intermediaries and laborers. This presentation is based on my single-author paper published last year in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space and draws on qualitative data collected through interviews and focus group discussions in the Yavatmal and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra state in India during summer 2014 and 2015–2016.


Pronoy Rai is an assistant professor of International and Global Studies at Portland State University in Oregon, USA. At Portland State, he is also an affiliated faculty in the Department of Geography and the Earth, Environment, and Society Doctoral Program, an associated faculty of the Institute for Asian Studies, and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Solutions. Dr. Rai serves as a visiting faculty in social sciences at the Gawande College in Yavatmal district in Maharashtra state, India, a rural community college. Pronoy Rai earned a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018 and a Masters in International Development Studies from Ohio University in 2013. Dr. Rai has received the American Association of Geographers' 2019 J. Warren Nystrom award for a paper based on his dissertation and the 2020 Emerging Scholar Award from the Association's Regional Development and Planning Specialty Group. A human geographer and South Asianist, his scholarly interests are in labor migration, gender relations and masculinities, agrarian studies, and climate change. Dr. Rai's research programs have received support from the Social Science Research Council, New York; Friends of India Endowment Trust, Ohio; University of Illinois; Ohio University; and Portland State University.