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Producing the Aesthetic Self: An Analysis of Aesthetic Skill and Labour in the Organized Retail Industries in India

Saikat Maitra and Srabani Maitra

Journal of South Asian Development, 2018, vol. 13, issue 3, 337-357

Abstract: Drawing on the concept of aesthetic labour, this article examines how skill training programmes in the organized retail industries in Kolkata modulate underclass female service worker-bodies to align them with the corporeal ideals of a globally fetishized consumer-citizenship aesthetics. Applicants for the entry-level jobs in retail are usually young women from economically underprivileged families, who are routinely viewed as being ‘deficient’ in the basic social, communicational and cultural norms. This necessitates a refashioning of the workers’ personhood by changing their bodily deportments, hygiene standards, communicational skills and social etiquettes. Yet there is little sustained examination of the impact of such skill training on the everyday lives of young female employees who are simultaneously tied to the aspirations for corporate social mobility as well as the vagaries of their own personal lives imbued with poverty, low wage and socio-economic precariousness. Based on a two-year ethnography in shopping malls in Kolkata, this study makes an original contribution in reflecting on how, while female service workers might very well learn to inhabit spaces like shopping malls through a learnt performance of embodied consumer cosmopolitanism under aesthetic labour regimes, their class backgrounds continue to produce moral surveillance, frictions as well as restrictions.

Keywords: Aesthetic labour; gender; service workers; skill training; South Asia (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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